A family business and a block of family homes have been destroyed by fire after a major blaze erupted in Church Street, Croydon last night.

Dozens of firefighters from across London spent more than 15 hours tackling the blaze, which is believed to have started in the Wing Tai supermarket just after 9pm yesterday.

Nearly 20 men, women and children were forced to flee as the fire took hold of their building, and two were treated by ambulance crews at the scene for smoke inhalation.

As one keen-eyed neighbour called the fire brigade two men from nearby pub The Gun scaled an eight-foot fence and ran into the block shouting a warning to its occupants.

Jacqueline Penn, 44, fought back tears as she told how fire crews sprayed water into the windows of her home as she watched from behind the cordon.

She said: “We’d only moved in four months ago - it was only yesterday I bought a sander to start decorating and make it more of a home.

“Being there to watch it unfold was strange, it was like watching a film.

“It’s affected so many people and so many families - a lot of them are Slovakian and they came here with nothing, and now they’ve lost their homes.”

Mrs Penn and her stricken neighbours spent the night at the council’s Whitehorse Resource Centre, Whitehorse Road being tended by centre staff and members of the Red Cross.

Wing Tai worker Quoc Viet Chu, the brother of shop owner Dung Chu, said he was devastated at losing his job following the fire.

He said: “I closed the doors at about 7.55pm, and later on my brother came to get some money and he left about 8.10pm.

“The he rang me at midnight to say the premises was on fire.

“We have been open nearly three-and-a-half years and business has been ok, we’ve been doing quite well, but I’ve seen the outside and it looks like very big damage.

“I feel very bad - I’ve lost my job now and I don’t know when we are going to be able to repair it. It may be months.”

Up to eight fire engines were on the scene at any one time fighting the blaze, with relief crews drafted in from as far as Islington and Hackney as the fire continued into this morning.

Five jets, aerial spotters and heat cameras were used to fight the fire, which was described as a “complex incident” by one firefighter at the site because of the difficulty the brigade had surrounding the building.

A fire service spokesman confirmed the blaze was under control by about 9am, although pockets of fire remained on the second floor and roof until about noon.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by the police and the brigade’s Fire Investigation Team.