IT STARTED with a "popping" noise heard by an employee in a cash-and-carry warehouse in Kilbirnie Street in Tradeston.

The time was 11.15am on August 25, 1972.

The employee saw smoke and flames in the attic of the Victorian building. Colleagues tried to tackle the blaze with fire extinguishers.

The first 999 call to Glasgow fire brigade was at 11.21am.

It ended not long after midday with the deaths of seven firemen when the building became a raging inferno.

The seven men who died were Divisional Officer Andrew Quinn, Leading Fireman Alistair Crofts, and firemen Iain Bermingham, Allan Finlay, William Hooper, Duncan McMillan and James Rook.

Quinn, 47, Crofts, 31, Bermingham, 29, Finlay, 20, Hooper, 44, and McMillan, 25, all died in a brave attempt to rescue Rook, 29, who had been one of the first firefighters to enter the burning building.

The Evening Times, in a front-page report that night, said more than 100 firefighters had gone to the blaze at the Sher Brothers property at 70 Kilbirnie Street.

The city was plunged into shock as news of the tragedy spread.

Councillor Nancy Ballantyne, convener of Glasgow's fire brigades committee, was close to tears when she heard the news.

She said: "This is really terrible. Those are first-class men in a first-class service."

As soon as he heard of the tragedy, Glasgow's Lord Provost William Gray cancelled a meeting at the City Chambers and went to the scene.

With Mrs Ballantyne, he comforted several of the dead firefighters' wives, who had been brought to Kilbirnie Street.

Scottish Secretary of State Gordon Campbell sent a telegram to Mr Gray and to the city's Firemaster, George Cooper.

It said: "I am appalled to hear of the loss of life in the Kilbirnie Street fire. My sympathies go out to the families of all the men who lost their lives and to those who have lost brave colleagues."

The funerals took place on a sombre Wednesday, five days later.

A guard of honour of city firemen paid tribute to their colleagues as a procession of hearses made its way from the Ramshorn Church via the Fire Brigade headquarters in Ingram Street to Glasgow Cathedral.

Inside the cathedral were 4000 people, including every off-duty firefighter in the city, and representatives of all 135 fire brigades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The service was relayed by loudspeaker to another 1500 people outside.

Six coffins lay in front of the mourners, draped in Union Flags, with black helmets and floral tributes.

The seventh firefighter, Andrew Quinn, received a Requiem Mass at Holy Cross Church in Crosshill, close to his home.

Dr William Morris, the chaplain to Glasgow Fire Service, said the seven "brave firemen" had put duty before conditions and their responsibility before their rights.

He added: "So it is not enough for us to honour them for dying. If now we value highly those who served us with their lives, let us tomorrow translate our gratitude and indebtedness into practical generosity to their comrades who still offer their lives for our safety."

At Holy Cross Church, Bishop Ward told how he had offered his sympathies to the widow of a man who had died peacefully during the night after the loss of life in Kilbirnie Street.

The woman told him: "Father, my grief is great, but I am thinking more today of the saddened homes which tragedy struck yesterday afternoon."

Bishop Ward continued: "The attitude of the poor widow in her own deep grief was surely indicative of the attitude of all the citizens of Glasgow on this sad occasion, and indeed of all the people of our country."

A fatal accident inquiry was held into the tragedy.

The jury returned a formal verdict that the fire in the cash-and-carry had been started by a dropped light – a cigarette or match – by persons unknown.

In February 1973 Glasgow's procurator fiscal, Henry Herron, announced there would be no criminal proceedings in connection with the fire.

In July 1998, almost 26 years after the tragedy, Matt Hooper, a Glasgow firefighter and trade unionist, and son of William, one of the Kilbirnie Street seven, died while on holiday.

An obituary in the Evening Times' sister paper, The Herald, noted that he served in the old South fire station, as did his father.

"Matt," it added, "dedicated his work within the Fire Brigades' Union to ensuring that firefighters' families in similar circumstances would never have to endure the financial hardship that was the reality for his own family."

FORTY years ago, seven Glasgow firemen perished in a warehouse blaze. The tragedy will be marked tomorrow with a commemorative lecture and on Saturday by a service at the Necropolis

and at Glasgow Cathedral. RUSSELL