On an afternoon in February 1943, this volcano sprang into being in the middle of a Mexican cornfield. Earthquakes heralded the birth of the volcano Paricutin. All through the month of February 1943 they grew in numbers and intensity, alarming the residents of the little village of Paricutin, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of Mexico City.
The actual birth occurred on the afternoon of February 20 before the eyes of a farmer, Dionisio Pulido, and his family as they worked in their cornfield. For quite some time a small fissure in the field had been slowly growing longer. Suddenly the ground began to shake. The surface of the land around the fissure rose, and a hissing cloud of ashes, smoke, and sulfurous fumes began to pour from the vent. By evening the rising cloud of smoke was visible in Paricutin, and during the night red-hot rocks were seen shooting into the air.
The volcano grew with amazing speed, and geologists from all over the world rushed to the site for the opportunity to study a volcano from its birth. Within 24 hours of the first eruption, the remote Mexican cornfield was covered by a cone of ashes 165 feet (50 meters) high. Before long lava also began to escape from the vent and spread over the surrounding countryside. Within a week Paricutin’s cone reached a height of about 500 feet (150 meters).
Activity continued without cease in the weeks that followed. Incandescent rocks were hurled into the air, providing a constant display of fireworks, and ashes from Paricutin fell as far away as Mexico City. By April an advancing lava flow forced the evacuation of Paricutin, and in June another village three miles (five kilometers) from the volcano also had to be abandoned completely.
Particularly violent eruptions occurred in July and August. Then in October a subsidiary vent opened on the side of the main cone and added more lava to the flood. For the next two months or so, Paricutin remained comparatively calm while its off spring, named Sapichu, continued with violent eruptions. When Sapichu died down, the fireworks resumed in the main cone. By year’s end Paricutin had grown to a height of about 900 feet (275 meters).
Intermittent, sometimes explosive eruptions continued in the years that followed. At times huge chunks of rock and lava were hurled from the vent and landed as far as two miles (three kilometers) away. Activity increased notably in 1951, with dozens of explosions occurring daily.
Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, Paricutin’s activity abruptly ended. The last lava flow died out on February 25, 1952, just 9 years, 4 days, and 12 hours after the volcano first sprang to life. The rim of its crater by then stood 1,345 feet (410 meters) above the remains of Sefior Pulido’s cornfield. Its lava flows had covered an area of 10 square miles (25 square kilometers) and had engulfed two villages and hundreds of homes. But the greatest significance of Paricutin was not the destruction it caused. It offered scientists a rare opportunity to study the life of a volcano from its first breath to its last gasp. For more information go to www.thepragueguide.com