Popocatepetl, the second highest peak in Mexico, has started ejecting burning rock fragments and has officials ready to evacuate nearby cities as warning levels increase to the third highest on a scale of 7.
The volcano is about 40 miles south of Mexico City, where residents can see it clearly, and has had 15 documented eruptions. The latest was in 2000, when it showed it's most violent display in over 1200 years and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention issued a statement saying that the lava dome of Popocatepetl began to open on Friday, and if the expansion continues could force magma and hot ash into the air. Authorities are on alert to have evacuation plans in place and air traffic officials have been warned of possible hazards.
There is a myth about Popocatepetl and nearby Iztaccíhuatl which tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers, Popoca and izztaccihuati ("White Lady"). Iztaccihuati, the daughter of an Aztec Emporer, fell in love with Popoca, who was sent off to war. When an enemy sent false word back home that Popoca was dead, Iztaccihuati died of a broken heart, and when Popoca came home victorious from battle to find her dead, he carried her body to the top of a mountain and had a funeral table built for her. Popoca stayed to watch over her until he, too, died of a broken heart.
The Gods were touched by Popoca's sacrifice and changed their bodies into great volcanos, making Popoca the largest one and dubbing it Popocatepetl ("Smoking Mountain"). The story goes that he sometimes throws out great plumes of smoke and ash as a reminder that he still watches over Iztaccihuatl, who lays sleeping still.