With only a brief respite for lunch, Tuppen's crew works from dawn until dusk, when it becomes too dangerous to approach the flames. Retiring to nearby trailers, they strategize with worried-looking well operators like Aidan Walsh, president of Bellevue Resources Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, the well's main operator, who flew in to supervise the effort.
Finally, weary crew members retire to a motel near an I-5 truck stop a few miles down the road. Come the first light of dawn, they know the fire will still be there, still going strong, still waiting for them.
The blazes have taken Tuppen around the world, from the American West to Third World countries in the grips of violent revolution.
In Kuwait, members of Boots & Coots, named after two legendary firefighters who once worked for Adair, fought 128 wells in all. "They gave us all the good ones," he said with a cynical laugh. "The ones located in the mine fields. The poison gas wells."
He has survived close calls such as the Louisiana well fire that exploded moments after his crew broke for lunch. He has seen colleagues die, like during the 1995 fire that claimed the lives of three crew members.
The Lost Hills blaze presents a unique challenge: The site is known in the industry as a wildcat well, one drilled without exploratory research to determine the size of the natural gas reserve below. Without that, officials don't know how big a beast they're dealing with, or how long it could burn unchecked. Officials have yet to determine a cause for the blaze, which so far has caused no injuries.
Tuppen said gas well leaks are more safely fought while burning. Without a flame, the leaking gas could explode if set off by a spark--something as simple as static electricity or a rock striking the metal pipe below earth.
The first solution to the wildcatter fire is to set off a 55-gallon drum of dynamite over the mouth of the well to rob the fire of oxygen and extinguish the flames so crew members can get close enough to cap the well.
If that doesn't work, firefighters will drill a secondary relief well adjacent to the burning well, eventually connecting the two and pumping in fire-retardant fluids that will rise to the surface and kill the flames. Such a project is dangerous so close to the flames and could take months to complete.
For now, all well operators can do is watch the fire burn incessantly like some Olympic flame eerily lighting up the country night.
"Sooner or later," Tuppen said. "We're gonna win this fight."