Fuego’s lethal eruption took the form of a pyroclastic flow, the same searing cloud of debris that cooked and choked the city of Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 AD. On its surface, a pyroclastic flow looks like a falling cloud of ash. But if you could peer into the cloud, you would find a really hot and fast-moving storm of solid rock, said Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University who studies pyroclastic flows.
“It’s not really like anything else on Earth,” Krippner said. People are familiar with avalanches of rock or landslides, but pyroclastic flows move much more quickly, traveling more than 50 miles per hour. The upper part of the pyroclastic flow resembles a grainy sandstorm, but it is filled with hot gases, whose temperatures range from 400 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The bottom [of this cloud] is a jumble of chaotic [lava] rocks. It’s large boulders that are breaking up into smaller pieces,” Krippner said. “They can knock trees down like matchsticks and destroy houses. They can send cars flying. They’re incredibly dangerous.”
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(Photo: Aerial view of the aftermath of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala’s Escuintla, is seen in this picture obtained June 4 2018 from social media. Via Reuters)