QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Four blasts inside the Cotopaxi volcano sent ash shooting more than two miles (five kilometers) in the sky Friday, coating highways, homes and cars just south of Ecuador's capital with a fine gray powder.
Government scientists said the 5,987-meter (19,600-foot) snow-capped volcano did not seem to be on the verge of a major eruption.
Authorities nevertheless restricted access to the park that surrounds Cotopaxi and suspended ascents of the peak, which is popular with mountaineers.
Patricio Ramon of Ecuador's geophysics institute said the explosions, which began before dawn, were phreatic eruptions, which occur when molten rock, or magma, meets water and produces a violent steam release.
Ecuador's top disaster official, Maria del Pilar Cornejo, said a yellow alert had been issued, meaning no evacuations were needed but logistical preparations would be made for a potential emergency.
The volcano is 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Quito and it began showing renewed activity in April. Its last major eruption was in 1877.
Cotopaxi is considered one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes due to a glacial cover that makes it prone to fast-moving volcanic rock and mud flows, or lahares, and its proximity to a heavily populated area.