It’s been more than 53 years ago since the famed firefighter Red Adair paid a visit to Parker County to extinguish a monster fire in the Cool area.
“A roaring gas well fire shooting flames 60 feet high continues out of control today 10 miles west of Weatherford,” the Associated Press reported on April 12, 1965.
The fire started around 8 p.m. April 11 as a new well “blew in,” or hit a gusher, according to news accounts.
A highway patrolman told the Associated Press reporter on April 12 that Red Adair was being called in later that day to end the raging fire on the lease owned by Ben Taylor of Graham.
The red-headed, Houston-native Paul Neal Adair by that point had already achieved international recognition for his skill in extinguishing oil field fires.
Adair, who served in the 139th Bomb Disposal Squad during World War II, was cool under pressure.
He had received major media coverage for putting out the “Devil’s Cigarette Lighter” in the Sahara Desert in Algeria in 1962.
The natural gas fire, shooting flames between 450 feet and 800 feet into the air and turning sand to glass, had been going for six months and had been seen from space by John Glenn when Adair stepped in and put the fire out with explosives.
According to an account of the fire by Mineral Wells native Isabelle Appling published in 1980 in the Parker County Historical Commission’s “History of Parker County,” five bulldozers cleared the area of oak trees on April 13 and a drilling rig had to be removed to allow Adair and his men access to evaluate the well.
On April 16, nearby families were evacuated from their homes and spectators kept roughly 2 miles away.
A blast of 250 pounds of nitroglycerin, intended to allow metal rigging to be dislodged and towed, momentarily put out the fire, Appling wrote.
Curious student helicopter pilots from Fort Wolters strayed too close while hoping to get a better look, delaying a second explosion of 150 pounds of nitroglycerin, said Appling.
“Immediately before each explosion was set off, Adair’s men poured water on the flames to cool the area and to reduce the size of the flames so a crew member could back a specially rigged crane, holding a metal box of explosives, into position over the fire,” Appling wrote. “The explosives were set off by radio control.”
Workers then had to close the gas well on April 17 to avoid another fire breaking out.
No homes were damaged and nobody was injured in the firefighting operation.
Adair and his crews went on more than 1,000 assignments across the world by the time he retired in 1993, including the daunting nine-month job of extinguishing 117 oil well fires raging in Kuwait after the first Gulf War.
In 1968, John Wayne played Adair in the film “Hellfighters,” based on Adair’s firefighting exploits in the Sahara.
Adair died Aug. 7, 2004.
His obituary published in the Houston Chronicle mentions a close call Adair had in Parker County, although it isn’t clear if it occurred during April 1965 gas well fire.
“On a job near Weatherford,” Danny Perez and Rasha Madkour wrote, “Adair was holding a handful of blasting caps with dynamite at his feet, when a bulldozer operator carelessly drove over the electric wires leading to the caps.”