LONDON, ONT -- Flames ripped through a townhouse complex in London’s Glen Cairn neighbourhood Tuesday evening, leaving neighbours in shock after a London man was charged with arson.

Even before seeing the fire damage came a surreal moment that Stephen Allenby says he won't forget.

"It was a normal evening, sitting at home, watching a movie with my wife. About 7:40 a gentleman knocked on my door and he was like, 'Um, can you please call the fire department? I just lit my girlfriend's house on fire. I'm suffering from mental illness.’”

It was a statement that took a moment to absorb, but Allenby took the matter seriously.

"I stepped outside and the flames were about 15 feet off the front of the house. So it was completely erupted before he even knocked on my door."

Fortunately Allenby's 12-year-old daughter was out for the evening and he and his wife were able to quickly get out of their townhouse unit with their two dogs.

"I look up and I see nothing but smoke." Scott Durand is credited with getting about a dozen people out of their units and to safety.

“I go over and I start banging on all the doors to get all the people out and then, shortly after that, it blew out from the house, all the flames.”

Even as fire crews were dousing the blaze police were making an arrest.

Const. Kate Gordon is a London Police Service media officer, "Ultimately the London Fire Department did extinguish the fire and we took a male into custody in relation to that fire," she says.

Police say Neville Ricardo Morgan, 28, of London faces one count of arson with disregard for human life. Gordon says the on-scene investigation is expected to continue through much of Thursday.

"The investigation is ongoing. It has been reassigned to our Street Crimes Unit in conjunction with the Office of the Fire Marshal."

Early Wednesday afternoon Allenby's family was given the all-clear to return to their home in the six-unit townhouse block.

"I feel for the lady and I also feel bad for him because I just don't know what he was struggling with at the time for it all to break loose like that."

London fire officials estimate damage costs at about $300,000 and they say its unlikely units one to three can be salvaged.

An exact cause has not been determined.