[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 8 August, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Obituary: Red Adair

Red Adair
Red Adair: Firefighter extraordinaire

Red Adair has died aged 89. His exploits fighting oil well fires around the globe made him a household name from Kuwait to Texas. John Wayne immortalised Adair in the film Hellfighters.

In the final days of the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait's wells were set alight by retreating Iraqi troops.

The raging fires and countless plumes of thick black smoke, fuelled by the country's rich oil reserves, posed the most formidable of challenges.

With his international reputation as the undisputed king of oil well fire fighters, the onus was on Red Adair and his team to save the region from potentially catastrophic environmental consequences - he did not disappoint.

International reputation

Paul ''Red'' Adair, the son of an immigrant Irish blacksmith, was born in Texas in 1915. He left school to work as a labourer, first on the railways and then in the oil fields.

In 1939 he joined Myron Kinley, a famous Houston oil fire expert, and stayed with him for 14 years, with a break for wartime service in the US Army as a bomb disposal expert.

A Kuwaiti oil field ablaze in 1991
Adair tackled the 1991 Kuwaiti oil field fires
Then the Texan resigned and formed Red Adair Company Inc. to control oil well fires.

Through the Red Adair Company, he pioneered the development of modern-day effective "Wild Well Control" techniques and equipment, and earned his reputation as the ''best in the business'.'

Despite the dangers, Red Adair was always at the head of his team when it came to fighting major fires throughout the American oil fields.

He gained his international reputation in 1962 when he tackled a fire at a gas field in the Sahara.

'Kuwait was easy'

The fire, known as the Devil's Cigarette Lighter, had been burning for six months, throwing up a 450-foot (137m) pillar of flame which was seen by astronaut, John Glenn, as he orbited the earth 200 miles (320km) up.

Adair blew out the fire with 500 tons of explosives and capped the well. Five years later, his exploits were celebrated in the film Hellfighters, which starred John Wayne.

Adair's greatest challenge, in 1988, was the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, possibly the world's worst off-shore accident.

The Piper Alpha oil rig on fire
Adair helped put out Piper Alpha

Not only did he have to deal with the fires following an explosion on the platform, but also with 80mph winds and 70-foot seas.

He brought the fires under control in three weeks, first pumping cement into the wells and then capping them.

Following discussions with the first President George Bush about the crisis in Kuwait, Adair's firefighting operation proceeded at an amazing pace.

The last well burning in Kuwait was ceremoniously extinguished by the emir of Kuwait on 6 November 1991.

"Kuwait was easy," Adair once explained confidently. ''We put all the fires out with water, just went from one to the next.''

This was just another episode in the life of Red Adair who thrived on the heat and danger of his adventures. He lived life on the edge, and was greatly admired for his bravery in dousing burning oil wells and risking his life to save others.

The BBC's David Chazan
"Red Adair was a Texan who made his name as the world's leading expert on oil well fires"

Firefighter Red Adair dies at 89
08 Aug 04  |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific