A massive fire tore through a townhouse complex in south London Tuesday, sending thick plumes of black smoke across the city skyline.

The stubborn blaze that carried on for more than two hours ravaged one unit at 786 Shelborne St. near Commissioners Rd. E. and Deveron Cres. and damaged at least two others.

Letoya Robinson-Francis arrived at her home in the complex from picking up her two young boys to frantic calls from neighbours to call 911.

“When I saw the smoke I was like, ‘What’s going on over there?’ One guy ran into the unit and ran back out and asked if I called police,” she said. “You could see the flames and just black smoke.”

Siyawash Abdulaziz was watching TV when he saw black smoke from his windows. When he went outside, a group of pre-teen kids were behind one townhouse unit telling him there was a fire near a gas meter.

“When I saw it, it wasn’t too big. I ran home to get (water), when I got back the flames were too much,” he said. “I was going to call 911 then I heard them (firefighters) coming.”

Robinson-Francis said the unit on fire was vacant. The family who lived there was staying in a hotel while repairs were being done after a pipe burst.

London firefighters were called to the blaze shortly after 5 p.m.

Thick plumes of smoke could be seen kilometres away. Heat and flames melted the roof of one unit, leaving a charred frame.

Firefighters fought the blaze from the air using an aerial ladder and on the ground, knocking out windows to get inside.

At one point flames shot six metres into the air, licking nearby units, and London police pushed a growing crowd of spectators back from the toxic smoke.

“Get back! Get back! This stuff is not good for you,” one officer urged the crowd.

Heavy smoke hampered traffic on Commissioners and Deveron and police asked motorists to avoid the area. Cause is still being investigated. A damage estimate wasn’t available.