Accident: Baba Gurgur- The Story of Eternal Flames

Baba Gurgur is an oil and gas field, located in the city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq. It was entitled to the world’s largest oil field till the discovery of Ghawar in Saudi Arabia. As per reports, the field has been burning for over 4000 years now.


Baba Gurgur field was first discovered by Turkish Petroleum Company, the forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company, on October 15, 1927, in an attempt to strike oil.  This was the first modern oil well in Iraq. When oil was struck, it flowed uncontrollably for several days, thus endangering the environment and habitation in and around the city of Kirkuk. But with time, the oil reservoir proved to have an immensely high producing capacity.

“Like an eruption from hell, first with a rumble, then with a deafening roar, oil burst out of the ground and rose above the derrick, raining down black crude and rocks on the surrounding wadi and filling nearby hollows with poisonous gas,” wrote Michael Quentin Morton in his book, In the Heart of the Desert: The Story of an Exploration Geologist and the Search for Oil in the Middle East. As per reports, the burning flames are the result of natural gas and naphtha through cracks in the rocks in the area around Baba Gurgur

A brief explanation of the area can be found in “The American Journal of Science(1939)”

”Near to the wells is a pool of muddy stagnant water, covered with a thick scum deeply tinged with sulphur. A few hundred yards to the east of the top of the same hill is a flat circular spot, 50 feet in diameter, perforated by 100 or more small holes, whence issue clear smokeless flames, smelling strongly of sulfur. In fact, the whole surface of this perforated spot of ground appeared as a crust of sulfur over a body of fire within; the surface being perforated by a dagger, a flame instantly issued, rising, sometimes even higher than the others.”

According to documentation, it took almost ten days to completely shut off the well and stop the oil flow in the desert. It was estimated that by this time, over 95,000 barrels of oil per day had spread all over the surrounding area. It raised serious concerns about the local inhabitants, their properties and the possibility of contamination of nearby water sources. Due to uncontrolled leakage, gas pockets were formed which resulted in the formation of a blue mist at night in the hollow of the low hills.

In order to prevent nearby villages to get affected from spilled oil, it was decided to build large dams in the wadi at around 1.5 km distance apart. Around 2000 men were recruited from nearby villages in order to complete the construction of the dams. The oil pool created near the derrick and draw-works made the job even harder. People were using gas masks to get as nearer as possible to set up some control devices. Desperate efforts were being undertaken in order to complete the construction of dams before the rainy season. Several pumps were installed to pump the oil back into the well, but this effort did not give expected results. In the end, a large quantity of oil was set alight and area was cleared.


  • Economic Impact:

The spillage of oil from the well spudded at Baba Gurgur resulted in a high oil-promise country like Iraq being termed as “most valuable concessionary” due to heavy losses.

  • Social Impact:

As this place is burning for too long time, the eternal flames were considered sacred by the people of Kirkuk. Women prayed to the fire, wishing for a baby boy instead of a baby girl. The shepherds also sat by the fire to warm the sheep during winters.

One night while clearing the area, two drillers and three Iraqi workers were killed who were trying to collecting poisonous gas in a depression.

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3 thoughts on “Accident: Baba Gurgur- The Story of Eternal Flames

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