Townsfolk defy 'Mother Fire Throat'

Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador could erupt at any moment, spewing red hot lava down its slopes and hurling volcanic rocks on to the small town of Baños below. But, far from fearing for their lives, the town's inhabitants are angry about what they see as a media hype that is seriously damaging their livelihoods.

Tungurahua is a grumpy old soul. Lying about 100 miles south-east of Quito, the volcano normally blows smoke and ash into the sky several times an hour. Every now and then, a rumbling sound can be heard and the ground shakes a little. It sounds as if Mother Fire Throat, as the Incas called the volcano, is flexing her vocal cords.

That routine of shakes and burps has increased significantly this month. So much so that according to Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, the seismic activity is comparable to that during the days leading up to one of the last big eruptions, on 14 July 2006. On that occasion, molten lava ran down the slopes where farmers grow fruit and a thick layer of ash covered the countryside to the west of the mountain, including the two major towns of Riobamba and Ambato, and even reaching the coast.

This time, the government has started to remove the 251 families who live on the western side of Tungurahua, close to the volcano's crater. Livestock is also being moved from the mountain.

On Thursday, the people of Baños received a message from their grumbling neighbour – the whole town was covered in a thin layer of ash. National television channels broadcast live coverage of the volcano as it breathed fire and spat burning rocks during the night.

But despite the increased activity, nobody in Baños seems too worried. In fact, they are much more concerned about the impact the news has had on tourism.

Famed for its hot water springs and adventure sports, the town of just under 20,000 is usually crowded with backpackers and local visitors. Now many are staying away as a result of the warnings.

"The scientists insist on what they call precautionary statements," says Geovanni Romo, the owner of a rafting and trekking company and head of an amateur study group called Ojos del Volcán (Eyes of the Volcano). "But as a result of those so-called precautions, it will cost us between four and six months to reactivate the tourism industry here."

He claims the press are crying wolf. "According to our own monitoring, the number of daily smoke bursts is only 300, where as before the 2006 eruption the number was up to 900. The newspapers exaggerate everything just to sell more copies," Mr Romo said. In an effort to make the best of things, Ojos del Volcán and other agencies are promoting tours to watch Tungurahua belch fire at night.

The biggest eruption in recent history was in 1999, when the town and the surrounding area were evacuated for months. Looting followed, something which many townspeople blame on the soldiers who were left to guard their possessions. As a result, they have taken matters into their own hands.

"This time around we are in full control," insists a weary Marcelo Espinel. He co-ordinates the town's emergency operations centre and is confident that in the case of an eruption, the townspeople will voluntarily move to "safe areas".

While speaking, Mr Espinel receives a phone call. Apparently the great Mother Fire Throat has stepped up her rumbles once again. What now? "Nothing," he says, "We'll just wait and see what happens next."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot