BRIDGEPORT — A suspicious fire broke out in a multifamily East Side home early Monday, displacing 19 people, seven of them children 5 to 13 years old.

The fire started shortly after 3 a.m. in the 2-story wood-frame building at 1088-1092 Kossuth St. housing four families, said acting Battalion Chief Manuel Firpi.

No one was injured, but an asthmatic child living on the first floor was treated at the scene, Firpi said.

The blaze started in an upstairs hallway on the left side of the home, he said. He called the timing and the origin suspicious.

"Luckily the doors were closed, [containing] the fire to just the stairwell," he said.

Firpi said arson investigators called in a State Police dog trained to detect accelerants that can start fires. The cause remained under investigation Monday.

Damage was estimated at $10,000, he said. The first and third floors were occupied and the second floor was vacant. The four occupied apartments suffered smoke damage, Firpi said.

The third-floor tenants awoke to the sound of smoke alarms, and fled down an outside fire escape, according to Firpi.

Firefighters had to shut off the utilities to the building to battle the flames.

The Engine 10 and Ladder 10 companies in the neighboring Putnam Street firehouse responded immediately, and the fire was extinguished in about 40 minutes, Firpi said.

"They made a fantastic knockdown," the acting battalion chief said.

The Southeastern Fairfield County Chapter of the American Red Cross temporarily relocated the displaced residents, and gave them food, clothing and emotional support, said Ramon Jimenez, director of Emergency Services.

To contribute to the Red Cross fund that helps displaced families, call 576-1010 or send donations to the chapter at 158 Brooklawn Ave., Bridgeport, CT 06604.

Aaron Leo, who covers regional issues, can be reached at 330-6222.