Aug. 8, 2004, 11:53PM
Oil-fire fighter an icon, 'patriot'
Red Adair fought well blazes on both land and sea for 50 years
By PURVA PATELCopyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Red Adair, the man oil companies turned to to cap their oil-well fires when few in the world could do it, was described Sunday as brave and someone who played as hard as he worked.
Houston's oil-well firefighting legend Paul N. "Red" Adair died Saturday of natural causes. He was 89.
"So many times he went into harm's way to save others," former President George H.W. Bush said in a statement. "I particularly remember his service to mankind in Kuwait when the oil fields, set ablaze, first devastated the Persian Gulf. Red Adair was a friend, a wonderful human being and a patriot. He will be sorely missed."
Adair had been in and out of the hospital during the last few years for various reasons, but was full of vigor after retiring from fighting fires, his daughter, Robyn Adair, said.
She said fighting fires was her father's passion.
"He knew his talents for putting out oil-well fires was a God-given gift and he was thankful for that," she said. "He was very energetic and quick on his feet."
Adair spent more than 50 years traveling the world fighting more than 2,000 fires. He and his team at the Red Adair Co. are probably best known for extinguishing 119 well fires in Kuwait.
Adair's team was among the first to put out the fires started by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi military forces at the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. That's when he met former President Bush.
Adair became a symbol of determination and confidence for many in the offshore industry.
He had a reputation for attacking the fiercest blazes, including the April 1962 capping of a fire in the Sahara Desert known as the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" that was so massive it could be seen by orbiting astronaut John Glenn.
He even inspired a 1968 movie called Hellfighters, starring John Wayne.
Other heralded jobs performed by Adair included extinguishing a massive offshore blaze at Bay Marchand, La., in 1970; the Bravo offshore blowout in the North Sea in 1977; the Ixtoc blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979; and the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 that killed 167 men on a North Sea platform.
"I wouldn't say he was fearless, but he was cautious about what he did — he didn't take any risks," said Raymond Henry, who worked by Adair's side for 30 years. ''He once said, 'You've got to respect it.' A lot of people thought Adair was bigger than he was because he came across as bigger than big. It was just his self-confidence and the way he carried himself."
Red Adair was born near Houston on June 18, 1915, to Mary and Charles Adair. He attended Harvard Elementary School and Hogg Junior High School and dropped out of Reagan High School to help support his seven brothers and sisters.
He enlisted in the Army in 1945 and served in the 139th Bomb Disposal Squadron during World War II.
He got his start in firefighting with Myron Kinley, the original pioneer of oil-well fires and blowout control, before starting his world-renowned company.
In 1959, Adair bought Kinley's equipment for $125 and started the Red Adair Co, which pioneered wild-well control techniques and equipment.
Those who worked with Adair remember him as someone who played as hard as he worked.
He was demanding but understanding, recalled Richard Hatteberg, who went to work for Adair in the 1960s.
"We'd be working and if things weren't going completely right, he'd be jumping up and down raising hell," Hatteberg said. "And when we'd get off he'd say, 'Let's go get a beer.' The next day we'd just go to it again."
Hatteberg also remembered Adair as someone who treated everyone equally.
"If we had the president of an oil company sitting in at a meeting, and two roughnecks walked by, Adair would get up and say hello to the two roughnecks," said Hatteberg, 66. "From the president down, everybody was equal."
Adair is survived by his wife of 64 years, Kemmie; a son, Jimmy; a daughter, Robyn; twin sisters May Miata and Faye Guidry, 91; brother Robert Adair, 83; grandchildren Sunny Abel, Paul Hinson and Derek Adair; and two great-grandchildren Derek Adair Jr. and Emma Morgan Abel.
Services will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at George Lewis & Son at 1010 Bering.
Reporters Danny Perez and Rasha Madakour contributed to this report.
(from: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/2725762 )