A failed cordless phone left a couple aged in their late 70s in a burning house unable to call for help in Melbourne's east early on Saturday.

A smoke alarm woke the couple in the Kelly Street, Doncaster home, about 4.30am on Saturday. The couple had attempted to call the Metropolitan Fire Brigade but the phone was dead. They remained inside for some time and a neighbour heard the commotion and raised the alarm.

Commander Phil Klein said the couple appeared to have tried to find out where the fire was before escaping. They were outside the house by the time the fire brigade arrived.

''The smoke was billowing out of the place quite heavily,'' Commander Klein said.

He said it appeared to be an electrical fire - although the cause is being investigated. Commander Klein said the couple's experience was a timely warning about relying on telephones that required electricity for a signal.

The fire was brought under control in less than 10 minutes by 18 firefighters, some of whom needed breathing apparatus. The fire was confined to a small area in the living area but smoke filled the house. The fire appeared to have started between the kitchen and the lounge.The damage is estimated to be in excess of $80,000.

An ambulance checked the residents as a precautionary measure. There were no reports of any injuries. The cause of the fire is under investigation.