With a makeshift sea water pipeline nearly ready, American firefighters said they hope to finally begin to douse Kuwait's burning oil fields in about two weeks.

They said Wednesday that Bechtel Corp., a San Francisco-based construction company, told them Tuesday night that they should have the water - up to 4,000 gallons per minute - by April 5.The water will be pumped to the fields via a pipeline normally used to carry oil to the seaport in nearby Faheel. Once the water arrives, it will be placed in reservoirs and then pumped to hundreds of oil well fires.

Water will be used as a key cooling ingredient in an elaborate program involving bulldozers, cranes, valves and even explosives to snuff out the flames and cap the wells.

"We can't start until we have water and we should have that soon," said Raymond Henry, a vice president of Red Adair Inc., one of three Houston-based companies that will tackle the biggest firefighting job in history. "It could take 18 months to two years to put them all out," Henry said.

As flames rose from scores of wells in the distance, Henry suddenly rejected his own estimate. "Hell, I don't know how long. We're going to take them one at a time," he said.