Devil's Cigarette Lighter

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The Devil's Cigarette Lighter was a natural gas well fire at Gassi Touil in the Sahara Desert of Algeria. Ignited when a pipe ruptured on November 6, 1961, the Phillips Petroleum Company-owned well produced more than 6,000 cubic feet (170 m3) of natural gas per second, whose flame rose between 450 feet (140 m) and 800 feet (240 m). The flame was seen from orbit by John Glenn[1][2] during the flight of Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. The blowout and fire were estimated to have consumed enough gas to supply Paris for three months, burning 550,000,000 cubic feet (16,000,000 m3) per day.[3][4]

After burning almost six months, the fire was extinguished by well fire expert Red Adair, who used explosives to deprive the flame of oxygen. The exploit made Adair a celebrity.[1] Adair worked the fire with Asger "Boots" Hansen and Ed "Coots" Matthews, who later formed the Boots & Coots well control company.[5][6] Preparations took five months while Adair's team cleared wreckage from near the wellhead with shielded bulldozers, dug wells, and excavated three reservoirs for water supplies. On April 28, 1962, Adair used a modified bulldozer with a 66-foot (20 m) arm to move a metal drum containing a 550-pound (250 kg) nitroglycerin charge to the well. Adair, Matthews, Hansen and Charlie Tolar rode the rig, protected by a metal heat shield and water sprays, with Adair driving and the others on a shielded platform while medical teams and evacuation helicopters stood by. After positioning the explosives, the team ran to a trench about 150 feet (46 m) from the well. The explosion extinguished the fire by displacing oxygen from the area of the ruptured well. Water from the reservoirs was used to flood the area for two days to cool the well.[3][4] Drilling mud was pumped into the hole to control the flow of gas and the well was capped after four days of work.[7]

The 1968 John Wayne movie Hellfighters was loosely based upon the feats of Adair during the 1962 Sahara Desert fire.


  1. ^ a b Flynn, Sean (November 26, 2004). "The Big Heat". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Oil well firefighter Red Adair dies". The Age. August 10, 2004. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Blast Ends Gas Flame of Sahara Well". Baltimore Sun. April 29, 1962. 
  4. ^ a b "Adair, Paul Neal (Red)". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "‘Coots' Matthews, oil well firefighter, dies at 86". Houston Chronicle. April 1, 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  6. ^ "Dynamite Blast Puts Out 'Devil's Cigaret Lighter'". Charleston News and Courier. April 29, 1962. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Barbee, Dianne (October 13, 1968). "Red Adair Stands as Authority on Oil Fires". Odessa American. 

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