An early morning fire of suspicious origin gutted a three-story brick rooming house in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington yesterday, critically burning one resident and briefly hospitalizing 10 others.

Fire department investigators said they suspect arson as the cause of the blaze at 457 M St. NW, noting that two trash fires apparently had been set on the first floor of the semidetached town house. They said they have no suspects in the case.

The most seriously injured victim tentatively was identified as Loretta James, 24, who was listed in serious condition at the burn center of the Washington Hospital Center. The names of the other victims -- all of whom was treated for smoke inhalation and released -- were not immediately available. Firefighters said the victims ranged in age from their 20s to the elderly.

The fire began shortly after 4 a.m. and quickly raced through to the attic, engulfing the building in flames and thick smoke.

Firefighters arriving on the scene immediately began rescuing nine residents who had fled to the attic of the house to escape the flames. Two others were said to have jumped from a second-story window.

Fire Department officials have not released official damage figures, but preliminary estimates indicated damage to the building totaled at least $60,000.