THREE Dublin firefighters were within seconds of being killed by a collapsing structure in scenes reminiscent of the Bray tragedy three years ago that claimed two lives.

An investigation is now underway into the fire in south Dublin last week in which the three men only escaped because somebody outside happened to spot a gloved hand pressed against a window.

Witnesses at the scene said that without that stroke of fortune, the men would never have gotten out alive.

The three have all been released from hospital but are understood to be still recovering from their traumatic experience.

The fire broke out at a number of commercial premises in the suburb of Stillorgan last Friday week, and was attended by about 21 emergency-response vehicles.

A witness likened the near-tragedy to a blaze in a factory in Bray, Co Wicklow, in September, 2007, which took the lives of Brian Murray (46) and his colleague Mark O'Shaughnessy (26) when the roof of the factory collapsed.

"They have been through a very traumatic episode," a source said.

"They were literally five to 10 seconds away from death. They fell out onto the footpath in a collapsed state. As someone said to me, they were like dead wasps falling out of a nest.

"They were the closest thing we had to dead firemen in this service in years."

The firefighters entered the building carrying a hose.

Outside, a member of the fire crew noticed that changes in the smoke patterns around the building indicated the imminent collapse of a structure and everybody inside was told to evacuate.

However, the men became heavily disorientated as a result of intense heat and darkness. The collapsed roof had prevented their using the hose as a means to find an exit.

"One of the firefighters outside just happened to see one of the gloves of the men in the corner of a window and ran over and smashed the window. They weren't getting out on their own," the source said.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing.