Intense explosive activity, multiple pyroclastic flows trigger evacuations around Fuego volcano, Guatemala

fuego volcano eruption may 4 2023 f

An intense eruptive phase started at Guatemala’s Fuego volcano around 08:00 UTC on May 4, 2023, characterized by lava flows, constant incandescent activity, dense gas and ash emissions, and multiple high-speed pyroclastic flows of various intensities. Abundant ashfall was reported in villages and farms located up to 50 km (31 miles) W of the volcano.

A couple of hours after the start of the eruption, authorities established a 7 km (4.3 miles) exclusion zone around the volcano and started evacuating more than 1 000 people living in the municipalities of San Pedro Yepocapa, Chimaltenango, Panimaché I and II villages, El Porvenir and Morelia. Civil Protection official Oscar Cossio told reporters that the number of people that need to be evacuated is likely to rise.

The dense ash column produced by the eruption reached an altitude of 6.7 km (22 000 feet) above sea level by 21:20 UTC, according to the Washington VAAC. Ash cloud was extending approximately 200 km (120 miles) W from the summit.

The eruption was accompanied by rumblings and moderate and strong shock waves on a constant basis, as well as the descent of moderate and strong pyroclastic flows that traveled between 5 and 7 km (3.1 – 4.3 miles) along the Ceniza, Las Lajas, Seca and Santa Teresa ravines.

These pyroclastic flows caused constant and abundant ashfall in the communities located in the vicinity of the volcano.

fuego volcano eruption may 4 2023 sentinel-2
Eruption at Fuego volcano, Guatemala on May 4, 2023. Credit: Copernicus EU/Sentinel-2, EO Browser, The Watchers

The RN-14 route on the slopes of the volcano that connects several towns to the colonial city of Antigua, the country’s main tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site, was closed.

Conred official Rodolfo Garcia estimated that 130 000 people live within areas exposed to falling ash, which was later reported as more than 100 km (62 miles) from the crater.

Garcia said 13 emergency shelters had opened in four nearby towns, capable of providing refuge to 7 600 people.

A series of volcanic explosions and pyroclastic flows at the volcano on June 3, 2018, caused the deaths of at least 190 people. Official numbers mention at least 256 more missing.

Local residents estimate that approximately 2 000 people have been buried while a local organization said that up to 2 900 people may have died.

This was Guatemala’s deadliest eruption since 1929, even if we take in only the official numbers.

Geological summary

Volcán Fuego, one of Central America’s most active volcanoes, is one of three large stratovolcanoes overlooking Guatemala’s former capital, Antigua. The scarp of an older edifice, Meseta, lies between 3 763 m (12 345 feet) high Fuego and its twin volcano to the north, Acatenango.

Construction of Meseta dates back to about 230 000 years and continued until the late Pleistocene or early Holocene. The collapse of Meseta may have produced the massive Escuintla debris-avalanche deposit, which extends about 50 km (31 miles) onto the Pacific coastal plain.

The growth of the modern Fuego volcano followed, continuing the southward migration of volcanism that began at Acatenango. In contrast to the mostly andesitic Acatenango, eruptions at Fuego have become more mafic with time, and most historical activity has produced basaltic rocks.

Frequent vigorous historical eruptions have been recorded since the onset of the Spanish era in 1524, and have produced major ashfalls, along with occasional pyroclastic flows and lava flows.


1 Fuego volcano in Guatemala increases its eruptive activity – Prensa Latina – May 4, 2023

2 Guatemala volcano erupts; more than 1,000 evacuated – AFP – May 5, 2023

3 Fuego volcano bulletins – INSIVUMEH – May 4, 2023

4 Fuego – Geological summary – GVP

Featured image credit: Crelosa (stillshot)

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