A 62-year-old retired District policeman died yesterday in a Suitland apartment house fire that forced six families from the building, injured four firefighters and caused about $200,000 damage, according to Prince George's County fire officials.

The fire at Continental Apartments, 3938 Suitland Rd., was well under way when police and fire units arrived, officials said. The fire, which was caused by "accidental use of smoking materials," began in the second floor apartment of the retired policeman, Milton E. Washington.

Joyce Bunn, 25, saw smoke and raced to her second floor balcony with her 2-month-old baby and two other children. "I saw the police coming and flames all over the right side of the building. They told me to drop the children. They caught them. Then I jumped," she said.

Another apartment dweller, Elaine Rice, 40, shimmed down a second floor drainage pipe after opening her door and seeing "the hallway full of fire."

When firefighters arrived, one of the first firemen to enter the three-story building was 18-year-old Michael Hopkins, of Boulevard Heights Volunteer fire department, who said, "The apartments were just an orange glow of flames."

Hopkins and about 75 other firefighters battled the blaze for about an hour before quelling the flames and smoke. Outside, apartment dwellers and those evacuated watched as hoses snaked across the snow-covered alleys and parking lots of the complex and shot streams of water into both sides of the building.

According to Prince George's County fire Capt. Duncan H. Monroe, the first started on a sofa as Washington and a neighbor's 8-year-old daughter were watching television.

Capt. Monroe said Washington apparently tried to extinguish the fire as the child ran from the aparment.

The four firefighters injured in the blaze were taken to Greater Southeast Community Hospital where they were treated and released, hospital spokesman said.