World-famous firefighter Paul Neal "Red" Adair (1915-2004) was born on this day in Houston, Texas. The inspiration for John Wayne's character in the 1968 action film Hellfighters, Adair is best known for putting out the flames set by Saddam Hussein that clouded Kuwait following the Gulf War.
"Kuwait was easy," Adair once explained confidently. "We put all the fires out with water, just went from one to the next."
The famed capper of out-of-control fires fought his first oil blaze in 1938 and built his international legend by putting out the 1962 Devil's Cigarette Lighter fire--a 450-foot pillar of flame--in the Sahara Desert.
"It scares you: all the noise, the rattling, the shaking," Adair said. "But the look on everybody's face when you're finished and packing, it's the best smile in the world; and there's nobody hurt, and the well's under control."
The incredible inferno had been burning for six months, fueled by millions of cubic feet of gas daily. Many considered that accomplishment superhuman.
"Danger," defined English dramatist George Chapman, "the spur of all great minds."
Credited with battling over 2,000 land and offshore oil well fires, Adair thrived off the heat and danger of his adventures. With his strong work ethic, the globe-trotting hero believed his word was his bond, loved living on the edge, and was greatly admired for his bravery in dousing burning oil wells and risking his life to save others.
"A man is a hero, not because he is braver than anyone else," observed philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, "but because he is brave for 10 minutes longer."
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