Report on Fuego (Guatemala) — 1 January-7 January 1920
Smithsonian / US Geological Survey Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 1 January-7 January 1920
Managing Editor: Gari Mayberry
Please cite this report as:
Global Volcanism Program, 1920. Report on Fuego (Guatemala). In: Mayberry, G (ed.), Weekly Volcanic Activity Report, 1 January-7 January 1920. Smithsonian Institution and US Geological Survey.
14.473°N, 90.88°W; summit elev. 3763 m
All times are local (unless otherwise noted)
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. The current eruption began in 2002. On 3 June 2018 a large explosive eruption generated an ash plume that rose to 9 km (30,000 ft) a.s.l. Pyroclastic flows traveled at least 8 km and reached temperatures of 700 degrees Celsius. Tephra and lapilli fell in areas more than 25 km away. Eyewitness accounts described the fast-moving pyroclastic flows inundating fields people were working in, overtaking bridges, and burying homes up to their roof lines in some areas. San Miguel Los Lotes, Alotenango, and El Rodeo (10 km SSE) were the worst affected. As of 22 August, the number of people confirmed to have died due to the pyroclastic flows was 169, and 256 remained missing. As I was searching for information about what was happening I came across videos taken by residents showing the seemingly silent and terrifying pyroclastic flows descending valleys and expanding in all directions. Videos also showed stunned and anguished residents covered with tephra as well as some that had perished. It was raw and deeply affected me. These folks have lived with products of Fuego’s activity for a long time; what happened that day? For weeks I grappled with the very existence of the videos, specifically why I could see almost in real time the pain and devastation residents were themselves trying to understand. The video is helpful for event reconstruction and documentation, but also unfiltered and graphic; I watched but should have been uninvited, and I too felt and still feel loss.
Geologic Background. Volcán Fuego, one of Central America's most active volcanoes, is also one of three large stratovolcanoes overlooking Guatemala's former capital, Antigua. The scarp of an older edifice, Meseta, lies between Fuego and Acatenango to the north. Construction of Meseta dates back to about 230,000 years and continued until the late Pleistocene or early Holocene. Collapse of Meseta may have produced the massive Escuintla debris-avalanche deposit, which extends about 50 km onto the Pacific coastal plain. Growth of the modern Fuego volcano followed, continuing the southward migration of volcanism that began at 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.