Strombolian and fire fountain activities represent a common expression of explosive basaltic eruptions. However, the transition between these two eruptive styles and their source mechanisms are still debated. We use textural and compositional studies to characterize pyroclastic material from both the Strombolian and Hawaiian-style fire fountain phases of the January–June 2000 Etna activity. We find that basaltic scoria presents distinctive textural and compositional features that reflect different modes of magma vesiculation and crystallization in the two eruptive regimes. Overall, magma that forms Strombolian scoria is far more crystallized, less vesicular, and more evolved, indicating strong volatile depletion and longer residence time before being erupted. Fire fountain scoria indicates a fast-rising magma with evidence of moderate syneruptive volatile exsolution. The new textural and compositional data set is integrated with previous volcanological and geophysical investigations to provide further insights into the dynamics of fire fountains, and to frame the transition from Strombolian explosions to fire fountain activity into a model that may apply to future eruptions at Mount Etna as well as other active basaltic volcanoes.