The Aftermath: Fighting the Fires
Oil fires are easy to set, but extremely hard to put out.
The first predictions were that five years were needed to
quench all Kuwait's oil fires. The government found this
unacceptable and was prepared to spare no expense or
effort to end the travesty within a year.
To fight the fires, a workforce of more than 10,000 men was
mobilized. They were part of 27 teams from 10 countries
and they included subcontractors from many other lands. The first arrivals landed
on March 11 on the first air flight permitting civilians. On
March 15, the first equipment was airlifted into Kuwait,
and on March 16 the task began at the wells that had
been cleared of land mines, UXO, and barbed wire.
The biggest wells gushed oil up into the air at more than
800 mph (1,290 kmh), and heat from the desert climate
and oil fires turned the landscape into an inferno.
Different teams used different techniques to extinguish the fires and cap the wells, including blasting seawater from 1 million gallon lagoons with MIG jet engines and producing shockwaves with TNT.
The Wild Well Killers, Kuwait's oil well firefighting team,
was formed in September. They extinguished their first
well fire in 12 minutes to set a world record. The team
had 31 members and achieved 41 fire extinctions.
In a ceremony on November 6 at the Burgan oil field, the Emir quenched the last oil fire. Kuwait’s sunlight had returned and the nine-month-long horror was over.
The firefighting had cost Kuwait US$1.5 billion. Without it, the oil fires had been estimated to last 100 years.
|Firefighter in Kuwait
The scale of the oil fires presented an unprecedented challenge to firefighters. The fires emitted toxic gases, oil mist and black rain, and temperatures as high as 950°F (510°C). Many firefighters suffered thermal burns from the heat. At least one, from China’s team, is known to have been killed.