KALAPANA, Hawaii (AP) _ A finger of lava branching off of the main flow from Kilauea Volcano to the Pacific Ocean claimed nine houses today, forcing officials to expand their evacuation order.

A large lava flow that had crossed the main two-lane road on Thursday had stagnated, but smaller rivers of lava broke out along either side of the main flow overnight, said Tom Wright of the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

One of those smaller flows coursed into the Kalapana Gardens subdivision, destroying nine homes along three blocks of its westernmost street, he said. It brought to 23 the number of structures destroyed by the volcano in the last month.

On Thursday, residents of 58 houses in the subdivision loaded their belongings into their cars and onto two large trucks as officials urged them to leave before sunset. In all, 175 people were affected by that evacuation order.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Harry Kim today extended the evacuation order to the entire subdivision and the surrounding area - an additional 38 houses in the subdivision and more than a dozen houses nearby. The residents were told to get out by 6 p.m.

''Due to the hazards of the lava flow, runaway brush fires and methane explosions, we are ordering evacuation of the entire area,'' Kim said in an emergency broadcast on local radio stations.

In all, some 400 people are affected by the evacuation orders, Civil Defense officials said.

Another small flow to the west was threatening one home beside the main highway, Wright said. No injuries were reported in the evacuated area overnight.

At least 40 evacuees were sheltered at the Pahoa Community Center by the American Red Cross, said Wendell Hatada, a logistics and supply officer at Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Fires caused by the 2,000-degree heat of the lava posed as much of a threat to the houses as the molten rock itself, said Reggie Okamura, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

''It's like a range fire in slow motion,'' said Dan Rogers, a forestry firefighter from Alaska who owns one of the threatened homes.

Rogers' 3-year-old nephew, Cassidy Phillips, was worried the evacuation might cause a problem at Christmas.

''Will Santa Claus know where to go?'' Cassidy wondered.

Homeowner George Caceres and about a dozen friends worked to dissemble his new frame house and load the lumber onto pickup trucks to be hauled away.

As they worked, the lava flow crawled to within 40 yards of the house, Okamura said.

''Everybody's worried,'' said resident Bill De Campli. ''Everybody is getting ready to leave. Everybody wants out of there. There is no panic, but it's pretty crazy.''

Two trucks carrying shipping containers were ushered into the subdivision by Kim, who spoke through a bullhorn from a four-wheel-drive vehicle to urge residents to clear their cars from the subdivision's narrow entrance road.

The containers were used for large household items the residents were unable to cart away themselves.

In the adjacent Keoni subdivision, where five homes were evacuated earlier in the week, the lava flow caused a house to burn down Thursday, the 14th structure destroyed by lava in the past month, Okamura said.

The flow, moving in erratic spurts, was less than a mile from the ocean, according to estimates from geologists at the scene, Okamura said.

The river of lava flowed underground for about six miles before surfacing about 1 1/2 miles from the two-lane Kalapana Highway. The highway remains blocked by an earlier flow that reached the ocean, adding 20 acres of land to Hawaii Island, late last month. That flow destroyed 11 houses.

An earlier phase of the eruption, which began Jan. 3, 1983, destroyed 16 houses in the Royal Gardens subdivision.

Civil Defense officials estimated the eruption caused nearly $8 million damage. The figure did not include destruction that occurred Wednesday and Thursday.