Red Adair to Help Kuwait Douse Fires : Oil fields: The famed Texas firefighter estimates that it will take a year to extinguish the blazes. Four other firms will also be part of the team.


Racing up and down the halls of his red-carpeted office, chomping on an endless supply of dill pickles, famed oil-fire fighter Red Adair took a call from President Bush on Monday and prepared for the biggest job of his long career: fighting hundreds of oil fires in war-ravaged Kuwait.

“We don’t know what we might see out there,” said the stocky, 75-year-old legend, pumped up from the attention and excitement of the moment. “But it is going to be hot.”

Adair’s company is one of five firms hired by the Kuwaitis to extinguish the oil fires, a job he believes will take as long as a year. Allied officials said Monday that more than 600 fires are burning in Kuwait, at least 517 at wellheads. Kuwait has about 1,000 wells, 363 of them producing.

No work is likely to begin until military officials deem the area safe. But representatives of Red Adair and other companies hired by the Kuwaitis will fly to Saudi Arabia in the next week and a half to begin an initial damage survey--including possible overflights--of the oil fields.

Adair and his staff figure it will take as long as two months just to lay pipes to bring in seawater to some of the burning wells so firefighting can commence. Temperatures in areas close to an oil fire can reach 200 degrees.


“It gets so hot it melts the sand,” said Adair, his once-red hair now gray. “It’s like stepping on melted glass (even 100 feet from the well). . . . It can burn the soles of your shoes.”

Despite the dangers, Paul (Red) Adair relishes the opportunity.

“We are champing at the bit to go,” said the veteran of 2,000 oil fires.

Adair, portrayed by actor John Wayne in the 1968 film “Hellfighters,” has capped some of the biggest oil well blowouts in history. His career also has been chronicled in thousands of news stories and in an authorized biography, “An American Hero,” by Philip Singerman. When asked about his past Monday, he replied with smile: “Read my book.”

His office, in a modest tan-brick-and-stucco building in an industrial park here, testifies to his pride in his work. Color photographs of oil fires plaster every wall. A wall-size picture of an inferno greets visitors in the lobby, competing for attention with an 1800s-era fire engine from Germany.

“President Bush called me this morning,” said Adair, dressed in a red sweater vest over a short-sleeved shirt with his company’s name emblazoned on the shoulder. “He said if you need any help, let us know.”

The firm signed a 75-page contract with the Kuwaitis on Sunday to send two teams of five men each and enough equipment to fill a 747 jumbo jet to Kuwait. Some workers will be hired in Kuwait, and Adair estimates that 30 men will be needed at each well.

When firefighting actually begins, as many as 1,000 to 1,500 people may be needed to extinguish the fires at a given time, according to T. B. O’Brien, president of O’Brien Goins Simpson Inc., a Midland, Tex., firm that will coordinate the effort. He said Kuwaiti oil officials have told him that as many as 700 Kuwaiti wells may be mined with explosives.

In addition to Red Adair Co. and O’Brien Goins Simpson Inc., the team heading to Saudi Arabia in the next several days includes representatives from Boots & Coots and Wild Well Control, both of Houston, and Safety Boss of Canada, O’Brien said.

Raymond Henry, executive vice president of Red Adair Co., said that some of the burning wells are 100 miles from the sea and that water must be piped in to cool sand, equipment and workers. About 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water a minute will be needed at each site, he said.

Faced with flames soaring 300 to 400 feet skyward, firefighters in protective clothing will have to use large, hand-held tin shields to approach the wells. Booms will be deployed to set off explosives to cut off oxygen to the fires.

The most dangerous part of the job comes during the capping of the well, after the fire has been put out. Henry said oil from the still-spewing well inevitably will splatter over the firefighters’ clothing, and if ignited by static electricity, it could turn the workers into human torches.

Although hazardous, the job apparently appeals to many.

Adair has been overwhelmed with calls from people wanting to fight fires with his team in Kuwait. “People just want to work,” he said.

But he has no jobs to offer, and a hand-scrawled sign on the front door warns job-seekers that no applications will be taken.

O’Brien estimated that it will cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion to return the oil wells to production. As many as half a dozen major oil-service companies have signed contracts with the Kuwaitis to rebuild oil facilities, he said.

The firefighting contracts provide for payments of $600 to $700 per day for support personnel and $1,500 to $1,700 per day for firefighters, O’Brien said. Henry said Adair’s firm charges a basic fee of $5,000 a day but hinted that the Kuwaitis are paying about four times that amount.

Adair, who plans to travel to Kuwait periodically to oversee his men, is undaunted by the size of the job ahead.

“It’s like other jobs, except there are more wells out there, . . . " he said. “You just play it as you go.”

Times staff writer Patrick Lee contributed to this report.


Red Adair, the global oil industry’s top firefighter, said in a weekend television interview that his Red Adair Co. is among the organizations that , after the war , will help extinguish the hundreds of fires now sweeping through Kuwait’s wells, storage facilities and refineries. Here are some of the uncertainties he and the others may face: * ACCESS: Will the crews be able to get close? In order to control the fires, they must be able to shut off pumps, set explosive charges and perform other close-in work. The heat will be intense: “That ground is going to be awful hot. It’s going to turn that sand into glass,” Adair said.

* DANGER: Will firefighters encounter booby-traps? Retreating Iraqis may leave behind bombs set to go off when the control efforts start.

* NUMBERS: How many wells are still burning? While many will burn themselves out, many more are likely to be afire for months or longer. Most of the oil wells in Kuwait, like those in Saudi Arabia, are in limestone and would “flow for a hundred years” if they aren’t stopped, Adair said.

* STORAGE TANKS: Will firefighters be able to save any? The longer the fires burn, the greater the chances a burning tank will overflow and ignite neighboring tanks.

* LOGISTICS: Are the resources available? This is the biggest oil fire project Adair--or anyone--has ever taken on. The influx into Kuwait of people, pieces of heavy equipment, food, water and living quarters will amount to another “invasion,” he said.