Firefighters called out to investigate a routine report of smoke at a Clydeside warehouse in the heart of Glasgow had no forewarning of the tragedy that awaited them.
But within minutes of their arrival at Arbuckle, Smith & Co's whisky bond in Cheapside Street, Anderston, housing a million gallons of whisky and rum, a massive explosion blew out the entire side of the building sending hundreds of tons of masonry on to the men below.
A total of 14 members of the Glasgow Fire Service and five men from the Glasgow Salvage Corps lost their lives in what was to become Britain's worst peacetime fire service disaster. Three fire appliances were buried under the rubble.
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The explosions were followed by one of the most ferocious fires ever seen in the city, with whisky-fuelled flames shooting 40ft across the street to set light to the roof of the neighbouring warehouse. As the fire spread it engulfed the tobacco warehouse, an ice cream factory, and the Harland and Wolff engine works. Apart from the volatile liquid, the task of the firefighters was made doubly difficult by the narrow streets restricting access to the heart of the blaze.
Over the next few days, firefighters conducted the grim task of searching the debris for the bodies of their colleagues, and damped down the smouldering rubble as pools of whisky from some of the 21,000 barrels in the warehouse continued to burn. The fire took a week to extinguish. The five salvagemen, who were employed by the Fire Insurance Companies of Great Britain to minimise damage during fires and to rescue goods, and the 14 firefighters were buried together at the fire service tomb at Glasgow Necropolis. Representatives of every brigade in Britain attended the joint funeral, with officers lining the route to the cemetery.
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