Abstract The deposits of two volcanic debris avalanches (VDA I and II) that occur in the upper Maronne valley, northwest sector of Cantal Volcano, France, were studied to establish their mechanisms of formation, transport and deposition. These two volcanic debris avalanches that clearly differ with regard to their structures, textures and extensions, exemplify the wide spectrum of events associated with large-scale sector collapse. VDA I is voluminous (∼1 km 3 in the upper Maronne valley) and widespread. The deposits comprise two distinct facies: the block facies that forms the intermediate and upper part of the unit and the mixed facies that crops out essentially at the base of the unit. The block facies consists of more or less brecciated lava, block-and-ash-flow breccia and pumice-flow tuff megablocks set in breccias resulting from block disaggregation. Mixing and differential movements are almost absent in this part of the VDA. The mixed facies consists of breccias rich in fine particles that originate from block disagregation, as well as being picked up from the substratum during movement. Mixing and differential movements are predominant in this zone. Analysis of fractures on lava megablocks suggests that shear stress during the initial sliding is the principal cause of fracture. These data strongly indicate that VDA I is purely gravitational and argue for a model in which the initial sliding mass transforms into a flow due to differential in situ fragmentation caused by the shear stress. VDA II is restricted to low-topography areas. Its volume, in the studied area, is about 0.3 km 3. The deposits consist of brecciated, rounded blocks and megablocks set in a fine-grained matrix composed essentially of volcanic glass. This unit is stratified, with a massive layer that contains all the megablocks at the base and in the intermediate part, and in the upper part a normally graded layer that contains only blocks <1 m in size. The different lithologies present are totally mixed. These observations suggest that VDA II may be of the Bezymianny-type and that it underwent a flow transformation from a turbulent to a stratified flow consisting of a basal hyperconcentrated laminar body overlain by a dilute layer.