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Friday, Feb 10 2006 12:52 PM

Oil well firefighter Red Adair leaves legacy

By The Bakersfield Californian

Famed oil-field firefighter Red Adair, who died Saturday at a Houston hospital, left a legacy that will burn brightly for years to come.

"I've known him for years. He was a very colorful guy," said Leon Daniel, president of Ivanhoe Energy LLC, which has an office in Bakersfield. "He was No. 1 in the field."

Paul Neal "Red" Adair, 89 when he died from natural causes, traveled the globe taming out-of-control wells well into the sunset of his life.

He came to Kern County on more than one occasion. He was called here in 1977 when a well in the Elk Hills field blew out, killing three men.

It was Adair who tamed the well.

He returned in the 1980s when a well in the Ten Section field blew out.

"Rocks were flying up and hitting the rig," recalled California oil and gas supervisor Hal Bopp.

Fortunately, the well didn't catch fire.

Local oil veteran Claude Fiddler saw Adair in action when he was recruited to plug another Elk Hills gusher, this one in the 1980s. It wasn't a major gusher, but it wasn't a small one, either.

"Everyone thinks of a guy who puts out blowouts as a wild and crazy guy. My impression of Red was that he was a very, very meticulous guy," Fiddler said. "He left nothing to chance."

John Wayne's character, Chance Buckman, in the 1968 movie "Hellfighters" is based on Adair.

Advertisements for the movie described Buckman as "The toughest hellfighter of all!"

Daniel, though, agreed with Fiddler's assessment that Adair was not a cowboy when it came time to lasso a well.

"He had a practical mind on him," said Daniel, who met Adair in the 1970s and maintained a friendship with him for the next 30 years. "He could see a practical solution to a problem that looked almost impossible to deal with."

Adair learned at the knee of Bakersfield local Myron Kinley, widely considered a pioneer in oil-field firefighting.

Daniel said Adair married Kinley's daughter, Keemer. They made their home in Texas.

Daniel was working on an oil platform in the North Sea section of the United Kingdom when several wells there caught fire in the 1980s.

Adair was called to the scene.

"The first time Adair walked over to that burning platform -- I went with him because I knew if I was with him, I'd be safe. I wouldn't go earlier," Daniel said from his Park City, Utah home.

"You can't believe what a holocaust it was out there. Everything was on fire."

Daniel said it took 36 days to bring the fire under control, and it would have taken longer if it hadn't been for Adair, who 10 years earlier, had designed special firefighting equipment for the platform.

Daniel estimated that throughout his career, Adair spent 80 percent of his time working behind the scenes developing equipment and techniques designed to prevent blowouts from occurring in the first place. He also developed ways to bring them under control quickly and safely.

"He took a lot of pride in the fact that he never had someone (on his team) seriously injured, much less killed," Daniel said. "He insisted on everyone being very safe."

Bopp said Adair brought this professionalism to the well-control business.

"All those outfits that do well killing now, they're remarkably safe," Bopp said.

Two men who worked with Adair later founded Boots & Coots, an international oil well control firm in Houston that was responsible for killing the spectacular Lost Hills blowout in 1998.

Adair didn't retire until 1994.

Daniel said competition to extinguish oil field fires had increased by that point and the nature of the business was changing.

"Hell, he was about 80," Daniel said. "He had a lot of hobbies. He loved fast boats and red cars. I guess he decided he had done enough in his life."

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