Monday, March 01, 2004

Hungarian Ingenuity in Fires of Kuwait

While my son is travelling, I'm watching videos from his Netflix account. Before he left, he was nice enough to add some films I wanted into his list. One I want to tell you a little about is an IMAX film on video called "Fires of Kuwait." You might get a kick out of the scene with the Hungarians the way I did.

The film shows the efforts of the crews who labored to extinguish the 700 oil well fires that Saddam Hussein ordered to have set as his troops retreated from Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War. 5 million barrels a day were burning. Kuwait looked like the landscape of hell. The sky was covered with dark clouds of smoke and poisonous gas and soot. Plumes of flame shot up to the heavens. "Everywhere you looked was a burning oil well."

Left to themselves, the fires would have burned for a hundred years. Nobody knew how long it would take to put them out, 5 maybe 10 years.

The movie first showed the great efforts from American teams from Texas, who used dynamite and venturi tubes and a lot of other ingenious techniques. They put out enough of the fires so that one day they were able to see the sun rise again. But the job was far from done.

Then some international crews came in, each with its own expertise. I've got to tell you about the Hungarians, they were something else.

The film shows the Hungarians driving to one of the burning oil wells in a protype contraption made with a refurbished Russian Q34 tank. They had replaced the turret with jet engines taken from MIG 21 fighting planes.

The crew is dressed in matching red jumpsuits and white helmets, looking stylish and coordinated like a pit crew at a road race. The driver shuts the red tank hatch, and then, as Rip Torn said with admiration as he described the scene, they inject water into the jet stream and "They just open the throttles and blow the fire out."

When I've told this to a couple of women they said, "You can't put out an oil fire with water." We've all been taught this as a basic principle of how to deal with kitchen fires. However, we were also taught that you can put out an oil fire by smothering it. The blasts of water from the jet engines separate the oil from the flames long enough for the fire to die by being deprived of its fuel.

Just a little boasting about the cleverness evinced by some members of the Hungarian half of my ethnic background.

BTW, the oil well fires were extinguished in nine months, four years and three months ahead of the most optimistic predictions.

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