Mt. Etna Spews Lava That Sparks Blazes

From Reuters

Rivers of lava poured down Mt. Etna on Sunday, engulfing small buildings and threatening a mountain lodge after a series of earthquakes awakened Europe's highest and most active volcano.

Pine trees caught fire as the heat of the lava engulfed them, and the stench of sulfur filled the air as cracks opened up in the ground, witnesses said.

Civil protection officials in Catania, Sicily's second-largest city, surveyed the mountain by helicopter and were set to send water-carrying planes to fight the fires.

Catania's airport was shut until this morning after a thick blanket of volcanic ash fell on the runway.

The eruptions began early Sunday after a series of small earthquakes shook the eastern edge of Sicily and parts of mainland Italy.

The strongest quake was magnitude 4.2, according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

The volcano, Europe's highest at 10,990 feet, pumped out huge, dark clouds of ash and spurted streams of lava at least 300 feet into the air.

The heaviest flow was descending on Piano Provenzana, a popular area for tourists to take mountain walks in summer and for skiing and other activities in winter.

The flow pushed over ski-lift pylons, knocked down power lines and swallowed a ski-school hut before surrounding an empty mountain hotel and lodge.

Officials said no one was injured.

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