Five thousand gallons of water is a lot in the desert, but not enough to put out an oil well fire.
Boots and Coots Co., a Houston-based oil firefighting team, tried twice Saturday to snuff the first of 600 Kuwaiti oil well infernos but failed both times for lack of water."We'll try again, not to worry," said Boots Hansen, the silver-haired boss of the company, one of three U.S. oil firefighting teams in the emirate. "We'll have to make a few modifications, but we're not that disappointed."
Their efforts showed that firefighters could be largely impotent until they have an unlimited supply of water from the Persian Gulf. That could be a month or more away.
To extinguish the blaze, the firefighters used a "tush hog," a massive cranelike contraption with a 15-foot-high vertical cylinder at the end. When the cylinder was placed over the fire, water was pumped by hose into the tube.
Three red Kuwaiti fire trucks connected to the main hose turned their water on full throttle, but could only produce 600 gallons a minute, not the 1,200 to 1,500 gallons a minute that Hansen said he needed.
The fire sizzled but flames continued to streak more than 50 feet into the air. After more than three minutes, the water was turned off, the tush hog retreated and the fire's roar resumed.
Hansen's crew spent an hour cutting several feet off the cylinder and tried again, with the same results.
Hansen said his attempts had been mostly an experiment, to see if his crew could put out fires with a limited water supply from fire trucks.
"This was a pretty good fire. If it had worked on this one, it would probably work on most of them," said the 65-year-old boss, who wore only an all-white outfit splattered with spots of oil against the 1,000-degree heat.
To get gulf water to the oil fields, engineers are modifying pipelines that previously pumped oil out to terminals on the gulf.
Until then, the firefighters are expected to focus on dozens of damaged wells that are not on fire but spewing oil.
On its second try, Red Adair Co., also of Houston, successfully plugged a spouting well on Saturday with a mix of mud and cement.
The Texas companies are all under contract with the Kuwaiti government, but they make no secret of their rivalry with one another.