August 08, 2004
RIP, Red Adair

Red Adair, the world's most famous fireman, has died at the age of 89.

Adair got his start in 1946 working for Myron Kinley, a pioneer of well-fire and blowout control in Houston. In 1959, Adair bought Kinley's equipment for $125 and started his own business.

Within a few years, Adair and his crew were battling a fire at a natural gas well in the Sahara Desert known as The Devil's Cigarette Lighter.

Flames shot 800 feet into the air with a sound that shook the ground for miles. Within a half mile of the well, the desert sand was melted into glass from the intense heat.

After deciding that digging under the natural gas well would be too dangerous, Adair put out the fire with a single blast from 750 pounds of nitroglycerine.

"Got it on the first shot," he was quoted as saying in a 1994 Houston Chronicle article.

His company brought 119 well fires under control in Kuwait, out of about 700 that were torched by the Iraqis.

But Adair himself has had some close calls. He was working on a well near Falfurrias, in South Texas, in the 1940s when an explosion under the platform propelled him upward through the derrick for an estimated 50 to 60 feet. He escaped without injury.

On a job near Weatherford, Adair was holding a handful of blasting caps with dynamite at his feet, when a bulldozer operator carelessly drove over the electric wires leading to the caps. Heralded jobs performed by Adair included extinguishing a massive offshore blaze at Bay Marchand, La., in 1970; the Bravo offshore blowout in the North Sea in 1977; the Ixtoc blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979; and the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 that killed 167 men on a North Sea platform.

Adair was the inspiration for a 1968 movie called Hellfighters, starring John Wayne. Adair said he got to be friends with Wayne while serving as a technical adviser for the movie, and even took the actor to see a real blowout.

Adair Red put out fires in Kuwait in 1965; Algeria in 1972; Gaylord, Mich., in 1977; Sumatra in 1978; Libya in 1979; Mexico in 1980; and Germany in 1981.

Capping wells and fighting some of the most dangerous fires came second-nature and he welcomed the challenges such as the fires in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. "It wasn't that big of deal to him. Everything happened so quick. The most difficult thing about Kuwait was there was so many of them," Robyn Adair said.

Rest in peace, Red Adair.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 08, 2004 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack