Authorities are investigating a suspicious fire that broke out at 124 Vanderbilt Circle early Saturday morning and displaced 16 people -- 14 of whom were children.

Assistant Goldsboro Fire Chief Frank Sasser said the cause of the blaze, which broke out shortly before 12:25 a.m., remains under investigation.

Sasser said Annette Butts and her nine children were living at 124 Vanderbilt Circle, and Maggie Edwards and her five children were living in the apartment connected to it, at 126 Vanderbilt Circle. Both families were displaced, Sasser said.

Butts was awakened by someone beating on her door, Sasser said. He said Butts woke up, smelled the smoke and saw the flames, and saw someone running away from her back porch.

Sasser said all 16 people in both apartments made it out of the burning building safely and without injury.

Sasser said the fire began in the back porch area of 124 Vanderbilt Circle, burning into a closet area, running straight up the walls to the upstairs area and into the attic.

The bedrooms in Butts' apartment were all upstairs, which was the most severely damaged part of the structure.

Sasser said Butts' apartment was nearly entirely gutted by the flames, while 126 Vanderbilt Circle suffered severe smoke damage and some fire damage to the attic.

Firefighters attacked the blaze by drenching the structure and using a ladder to get onto the roof and cut a hole with a chainsaw for ventilation.

Flames were still roaring in the back side of the structure as firefighters extended the ladder onto the roof to walk across it and cut the hole.

By the time they reached the roof, the flames were mostly extinguished, with only hot spots still putting out smoke.

Onlookers came out of their apartments to watch as the smoke could be seen from several blocks away.

Several people used their cell phones to record video and snap photos of what was going on.

Vanderbilt Circle was blocked off by police cars and fire trucks while firefighters got the blaze under control.

Sasser said no description was immediately given to authorities of the person Butts said she saw running away from her apartment.

Sasser said Duke Energy cut the power supply to both apartments.

Goldsboro Fire Captain Chad Cobb said fire investigators wrapped up their work on the scene later Saturday morning, and the investigation has been turned over to the Goldsboro Police Department.

Sasser said the American Red Cross was called to the scene to assist the families who were displaced by the fire.

He said he did not know where the Red Cross had taken the families after their homes were gutted by the blaze.