|LA BECERRERA, Mexico (AP) --Army troops stood ready to evacuate hundreds of residents from towns on the flanks of Mexico's most active volcano Sunday as scientists said building pressure signaled an imminent eruption of the 12,533-foot (3,820-meter) "Volcano of Fire."
During the last several days smoke, ash and vapor have been spewing from the crater of the volcano in western Colima state.
Scientists said that within days or weeks, a huge dome of lava developing inside the crater would either collapse, sending hot rivers of lava and rock down the peak's southern flanks, or explode, launching rock and ash into the surrounding area.
Internal explosions in the volcano in 1999 sent lava flowing three miles (five kilometers) down the slopes, forcing the evacuation of nearly 500 people from 11 hamlets.
Residents are always barred from going within four miles (6.5 kilometers) of the volcano. Since the lava dome has begun to expand, civil protection authorities are blocking anyone who doesn't live in the area from going any closer than seven miles (11.5 kilometers).
White plumes of smoke curled skyward from the crater Sunday, a sign that pressure was escaping. Area vulcanologists said seismic activity remained at stable, non-threatening levels.
Soldiers guarded the perimeters of the danger zone and manned the streets of area towns in case of an evacuation, and some coffee workers were unable to work in fields located within prohibited areas.
But it was a quiet Sunday for residents in the small villages of Yerbabuena and La Becerrera, located five and six miles (eight and 10 kilometers), respectively, from the volcano.
Cattle grazed in the shadow of the smoking colossus and machete-wielding workers cut fields of sugarcane, while townspeople attended Mass, swept the sidewalks or chatted with neighbors on the sun-dappled streets.
"I've lived here all my life and I don't feel like there's any danger," said 40-year-old Daniel Viscaino, a farmer, taxi driver and musician from La Becerrera, a town of 500 people.
"As long as the smoke is coming out like that nothing's going to happen. Besides, it's nature. No one but God can really say when our time is up."
Alvaro Lepe, 52, owns 100 hectares (250 acres) of sugar cane, pasture and coffee fields in Yerbabuena, a hamlet of about 200 people. He said he's been keeping an eye on the volcano for 20 years.
"While it has changed, in no moment has it been as scary as they say," he said, nodding his straw-hatted head toward the volcano's peak as 30 workers labored in the cane field behind him.
"Nature is very unpredictable," he said, adding that if there were a strong eruption "you'd see both animals and people running for their lives."
Vulcanologists consider the Colima volcano to be the most active and potentially the most destructive of nine volcanoes located across the middle of Mexico. It has staged violent eruptions dozens of times since its first recorded eruption in 1560.
About 300,000 people live within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of the volcano, and Colima city, the state capital, is within 20 miles (30 kilometers).
But researchers say, in recent times, lava has never descended below 6,500 feet (1,980 meters), well above the altitude of the current villages.