The grievous sins of Sodom, Gomorrah (and surrounding area), which included same-gender sex (hence the origination of the word "sodomy"), cried out for God's judgment. In spite of Abraham's intercession to have the cities spared (Genesis 18), they were destroyed with brimstone (a highly flammable substance) and fire.
The unique and complete annihilation of several cities of the plain (Deuteronomy 29:23) took place one year before the miraculous birth of Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 18 - 19). God did, however, mercifully spare Zoar because of a special request made by Lot (Genesis 19:17 - 22).
Interestingly, the destruction of the sinful cities is not only mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, chapters 9 and 11) but also in the Koran (sura liv.).
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