Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano hurled fiery rocks and sent a column of ash and steam 1 ½ miles above its crater Thursday. Experts have warned that...

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COTALO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano hurled fiery rocks and sent a column of ash and steam 1 ½ miles above its crater Thursday.

Experts have warned that Tungurahua is poised for a major eruption within a matter of days or weeks.

On Sunday, 1,000 villagers were evacuated from 10 hamlets on the western slopes of the 16,575-foot volcano in central Ecuador.

Silvia Vallejo, a volcanologist at Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute, told Radio Sonorama that Thursday’s eruption sent a column of ash and steam 1 ½ miles into the air. She added the explosions were accompanied by roars from within the volcano and there have been reports it showered ash on nearby villages.

Tungurahua, which has been active since 1999, has been releasing a high level of energy since Dec. 22, according to U.S. volcanologist Cynthia Mothes.

She said it could cause pyroclastic flows — blasts of volcanic materials “that descend at high speeds and burn everything in their way.”

Housing Minister Maria de los Angeles Duarte told journalists that the government will have 500 temporary homes ready for evacuated villagers in the next few days.

Tungurahua, whose name means “throat of fire” in the indigenous Quichua language, caused at least four deaths when it erupted in July and August 2006.