Today I learned about a gigantic natural gas well fire in the Algerian Sahara in the early 60′s called “The Devil’s Cigarette Lighter.” A pipe on the well ruptured, and suddenly there was 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas—on fire—shooting up out of the ground per second. The fire went 800 feet into the air and melted the surrounding desert into glass. From the linked NYT Mag piece: “The temperature of well fires is measured in thousands of degrees, and the noise is so ferocious that it ceases to register as sound – it’s simply a deep, crunching vibration.”
The fire was visible from space, and burned for nearly six months until it was put out using explosives: “It seems wildly counterintuitive, using dynamite to subdue an inferno, but the physics are quite simple: a properly shaped and sized explosion will momentarily suck all the oxygen from a given area, thus starving the flames long enough to get a cap on the well. (Of course, done wrong, it’s also extremely dangerous.)”
The rest of the NYT Mag piece is a profile of Red Adair, the Texas man who put out the DCL as just one of many well fires in a long career. Worth a read.