GASSI TOUIL: THE DEVIL’S CIGARETTE LIGHTER
Gassi Touil is a large natural gas field in the Sahara Desert region of Grand Erg Oriental of Algeria, within the commune of Hassi Messaoud.
On Nov. 6, 1961, there was a spark and a flash and then a tremendous, rumbling growl when a pipe on a natural-gas well ruptured. More than 6,000 cubic feet of flaming gas per second exploded through a hole in the ground, and a deafening jet of fire roared 800 feet into the sky, melting the Saharan sand into glass. The fire burned so intensely that, like a hurricane, it was given a name — the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter — and it was seemingly endless: four months later, John Glenn looked down from orbit and saw a slash of orange flickering above one of the largest deposits of natural gas on the planet.
Nearly six months after the well blew, a 46-year-old plug of a Texan named Red Adair with Asger “Boots” Hansen and Ed “Coots” Matthews, maneuvered a modified bulldozer next to the mouth of the inferno. A 60-foot boom was attached to the dozer, and nearly 800 pounds of nitroglycerin were attached to the boom, to be ignited from afar. Red’s crewmen who, like him, dressed in red overalls and red hard hats — sprayed him with water from a reservoir they’d filled from a well they’d dug so he wouldn’t vaporize in the heat. The explosion extinguished the fire, and after two days to allow the well to cool, the well was capped. The Red Adair, Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews legend could start.