Extinguishing the fires helped save Kuwait’s oil industry and its economy, and also prevented an environmental disaster. The fires were started in January and February 1991 by the Iraqi army, which used explosives to ignite between 605 and 732 oil wells and 10 gathering centres, along with oil lakes and trenches, as part of a scorched earth policy while retreating from Kuwait as coalition forces gained the upper hand in the Gulf War.

About 80 per cent of Kuwait’s upstream business was damaged, according to Kuwait Oil Company. An estimated 4-6 million barrels of oil burned each day, along with about 100 million cubic metres of gas.

The project to stop the fires – Al-Awada (The Return) – began in April 1991. Companies involved included the world’s most famous oil well firefighter Texan Red Adair. From September 1991, a team of locals named the Kuwait Wild Well Killers also joined the effort and extinguished 41 well fires. It cost an estimated $11.5bn to extinguish all fires.

Al-Awada was followed by Al-Tameer (The Reconstruction). This was led by US firm Bechtel, which employed 16,000 workers on the project.