Tenants of a Fulham estate say their close-knit community has been 'devastated' by a fire which ripped through a block of flats this week, destroying several homes.

The fierce blaze at Robert Owen House on Monday morning rendered 13 flats in one building uninhabitable, and residents could face up to a year of upheaval before they are able to return.

Half of the roof of the four-storey block off Fulham Palace Road was completely destroyed and four flats beneath were gutted by the inferno, while nine others below suffered severe water damage.

And the danger of falling masonry from the damaged block means much of the building will remain cordoned off until the site can be made safe.

Resident Christine Blinco, 64, said: "It's devastating – the community is gone now. Most people had lived down here 30 or 40 years and some were born here.

"They're trying to put people together but at the moment they've just been rehoused here and there. Most of them are eager to return because although it might not look like much, this is a really lovely place to live."

Many residents were out at work as the drama unfolded in the busy road, which was closed to traffic as up to 50 firefighters from Fulham, Hammersmith and Wandsworth fought for an hour to break into the roof and douse the flames.

Teaching assistant Chiraz Hill, 30, who lives in the building, said: "I've never seen a flat go up like that before. To see the roof fall in so quickly was really frightening.

"Before we even knew it there was a big gap in the roof - I don't think even the fire brigade were prepared for how quickly it went up. It went from everything being ok to 'get out your houses now'."

And Isam Awad, 50, whose home is directly beneath the area in which the fire started, said: "The whole roof was on fire and collapsing, with flames and smoke everywhere.

"I didn't even have chance to wash my face – I woke up and had to get out of the flat. My home is probably totally flooded but I haven't been allowed back inside to find out."

One man was given oxygen for mild smoke inhalation but no-one was seriously hurt.

Investigations are ongoing but the cause of the blaze is not being treated as suspicious.

Station manager Steven Ryan, based at the London Fire Brigade headquarters, said: "An initial difficulty our crews faced was gaining access to the common roof void. They had to cut through the ceilings of some of the top floor flats in order to get at the fire.

"There's a fair bit of damage there. At least 50 per cent of the roof has been destroyed.

"There was plenty of combustible material in the roof space."

Residents unable to return to their homes were taken to Hammersmith Town Hall while the council organised emergency shelter. Tenants of 11 evacuated flats were later allowed to return home, and those living in the 13 worst affected have all now been found temporary accommodation.

An H&F Homes spokesman said: "There will be a full investigation into the cause of this fire. The safety of our residents is our absolute priority."