Red Adair

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Red Adair
Red Adair (1964).jpg
Red Adair in 1964
Paul Neal Adair

(1915-06-18)June 18, 1915
DiedAugust 7, 2004(2004-08-07) (aged 89)
Adair fighting an oil field fire in the Elk Hills Oil Field on October 27, 1977

Paul Neal "Red" Adair (June 18, 1915 – August 7, 2004)[3][4] was an American oil well firefighter. He became notable as an innovator in the highly specialized and hazardous profession of extinguishing and capping oil well blowouts, both land-based and offshore.

Adair was born in Houston, Texas, the son of an Irish blacksmith,[5] and attended Reagan High School. He began fighting oil well fires after returning from serving in an Army bomb disposal unit during World War II. He started his career working for Myron Kinley, the "original" blowout/oil firefighting pioneer. They pioneered the technique of using a V-shaped charge of high explosives (the Munroe effect being used during the war and used in bazookas and the atom bomb), the high velocity blast of which would snuff the fire. He founded Red Adair Co. Inc. in 1959, and over the course of his career battled more than 2,000 land and offshore oil well, natural gas well, and similar spectacular fires. Adair gained global attention in 1962 when he tackled a fire at the Gassi Touil gas field in the Algerian Sahara nicknamed the Devil's Cigarette Lighter, a 450-foot (140 m) pillar of flame that burned from 12:00 PM November 13, 1961, to 9:30 AM on April 28, 1962. In December 1968, Adair sealed a large gas leak at an Australian gas and oil platform off Victoria's southeast coast.[2]

In 1977, he and his crew (including Asger "Boots" Hansen and Manohar "Man" Dhumtara-Kejriwal) contributed to the capping of the biggest oil well blowout to have occurred in the North Sea (and at the time the largest offshore blowouts worldwide, in terms of volume of crude oil spilled[6]), at the Ekofisk Bravo platform, located in the Norwegian sector and operated by Phillips Petroleum Company (now ConocoPhillips). In 1978, Adair's top lieutenants Hansen and Ed "Coots" Matthews left to found competitor Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. In 1988, Adair was again in the North Sea where he helped to put out the UK sector Piper Alpha oil platform fire. At age 75, Adair took part in extinguishing the oil well fires in Kuwait set by retreating Iraqi troops after the Gulf War in 1991.

Adair retired in 1993, and sold The Red Adair Service and Marine Company to Global Industries.[7] His top employees (Brian Krause, Raymond Henry, Rich Hatteberg) left in 1994 and formed their own company, International Well Control (IWC).

Adair died in 2004 at the age of 89.[3] He was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.


  • The 1968 John Wayne movie Hellfighters was loosely based upon the feats of Adair during the 1962 Sahara Desert fire.
  • Adair received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 1980.[8]
  • The History Channel's Modern Marvels episode on "Oil Well Firefighting" was one of Adair's last interviews prior to his death. The episode aired after Adair's death and was dedicated to his memory.
  • The Travel Channel's "Mysteries Of The Museum" 2014 episode "Most Explosive" features a segment on Red Adair's successful effort to stop the burning gas line in the Algerian Sahara Desert in Africa, called "The Devil's Cigarette Lighter" in 1961.
  • Adair was associated with a Rolex and American Express advertising campaign in the 1980s.
  • At one point during the 1979 action film North Sea Hijack, a group of terrorists are fooled into thinking a nearby offshore oil drilling platform has exploded. One of the hijackers remarks that if the authorities don't bring in Red Adair to put the fire out "it could burn for a year."
The roads around South Shore Harbour Marina in League City, Texas, where Red Adair kept his boat, were named after him.


  1. ^ "Red Adair, Famed for Taming Oil Well Fires, Dies at 89". The New York Times. 9 August 2004. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Oil well firefighter Red Adair dies". The Age. 10 August 2004. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b Obituary: Red Adair, BBC News, August 8, 2004
  4. ^ Obituary: Red Adair, The Guardian, August 9, 2004
  5. ^ "Obituary: Red Adair". 8 August 2004 – via
  6. ^ Oil Rig Disasters / 5 Worst Offshore Blowouts, unknown, archived from the original on 28 December 2014, retrieved 5 April 2013
  7. ^ ""Boots, Coots, Roots" at Boots and Coots/IWC". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
  8. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.