Kuwait's oil-field inferno is too big for four North American companies to handle, and teams worldwide will be hired to try to put out more than 500 fires in seven months, the oil minister said Saturday.

The official, Rasheed al-Amiri, initially had projected it would take two years to extinguish the blazes.Al-Amiri told reporters he was worried by the slow pace of the firefighting operation, which has been assigned to three companies from Texas and one from Canada. He said they were not told of his plans in advance. The plan would save Kuwait $30.5 billion in oil losses if successful.

As of Saturday, two fires had been put out, and 23 wells that were spewing oil had been capped. In all, about 600 wells were blown up by Iraqi troops before their defeat in late February, including about 520 that caught fire and about 80 that spewed oil without burning.

"I'm not disappointed, but I'm concerned about the pace," said al-Amiri. He said he had not discussed his new plans with the four North American firms - Red Adair Co. and Boots & Coots Co. of Houston, Wild Well Control Co., of Spring, Texas, and Safety Boss of Calgary, Alberta.

"It will be a surprise," he said. "It will make them work faster."

In Houston, an oil well firefighter with Boots & Coots who was leaving Saturday for Kuwait said the new Kuwaiti deadline may be too optimistic.

"Every well is different," said the firefighter, David Thompson. "You can't put a time on it like that. Some wells can be handled in a day. Others may take two or three weeks."