HOUSTON (AP) - Edward "Coots" Matthews, a famed oil well firefighter and part of a trio who inspired the 1968 movie "Hellfighters" starring John Wayne, has died. He was 86.
Matthews and Asger "Boots" Hansen co-founded Houston-based Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. in 1978, after a 20-year career fighting oil well fires alongside counterpart - and later rival - Red Adair. Boots & Coots said Matthews died Wednesday.
"We owe a tremendous debt to Mr. Matthews for the vision he and Boots Hansen shared when they formed this company and the culture they developed that helped the company endure the hard times as well as the good," Jerry Winchester, the company's president and CEO, said in a statement Thursday. "His imprint on this industry will live forever."
Matthews began his career with Halliburton in 1947 after serving as a U.S. Air Force
tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II.
Matthews and Hansen then joined forces with Adair, fighting some of the best known oil well flares, including the "Devil's Cigarette Lighter" in Algeria in 1961. The geyser was so great, astronaut John Glenn reported seeing it from space as he passed over the Algerian desert.
After Iraq's 1991 invasion of Kuwait, Matthews was again called to service, flying to the Persian Gulf to help extinguish some 700 fires in Kuwaiti oil fields.
Matthews retired in 1994 and Boots & Coots was sold to employees.
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