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Teams Work to Douse Blazing Iraqi Oil Fields

Burning oil well near the Iraq-Kuwait border, March 24, 2003.
Mike Shuster, NPR News /
Burning oil well near the Iraq-Kuwait border, March 24, 2003.

Explosives teams have moved into southern Iraq's Rumaila oil field, where nine of about 1,000 oil wells are on fire.

NPR's Mike Shuster described one burning well as "a roiling column of flame... with flames shooting 100 feet into the air."

Explosives teams are arriving to search for booby traps. Brigadier General Robert Crear of the Army Corps of Engineers is in command of the oil field operation. He tells Shuster that securing the oil fields is a top priority.

"We can say there's success already," he says. "If you remember back in the previous war, there were over 700 wells that were set afire in Kuwait alone. Here, we're talking about nine fires."

The number of burning wells could have been higher -- teams have found other wells that were set to explode, but apparently the explosive did not blow up as designed.

Explosive teams will have to inspect all the wells in the Rumaila oil field, and civilian crews are already at work putting out the fires at the wells already sabotaged.

Water is being trucked in to put out the fires, and huge convoys of water and equipment needed to douse the fires moved across the desert to begin the job.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.
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