Two sisters, ages 7 and 3, were critically burned in a fire yesterday after they ignited some clothing in a closet while playing with matches, D.C. fire officials reported.

Kyshsa Dabney, and her younger sister, Rashanda, of 1372 Kenyon St. NW, were in critical condition last night at Children's Hospital with burns over 65 and 90 percent of their bodies, respectively.

But firefighters who were on the scene said last night that the young girls would have died in the flaming apartment had it not been for the quick action of two fire lieutenants.

Firemen at Company 11, one block fromt the five-story Kenyon Street apartment building, said they were alerted to the fire when one of the girls' neighbors ran breathlessly into the station at 4:30 p.m.

Minutes later, firemen reached the ground floor apartment, where the two girls lived with their grandfather, Arthur Dabney.

"We rushed into the building," said Lt. Everett A. Green, "and found the first floor heavily charged with smoke. We ran down the hall and pried open the door of the apartment."

Green said he and Lt. Michael D'Amico made their way to the fire in the back bedroom of the two-bedroom apartment. "By the time we got there," Green said, "the air was so heravy with thick black smoke that we could hardly see, but we found the older girl unconscious on the floor near a closet. I picked her up in my arms and got her out as fast as I could."

D'Amico said: "The woman who told us about the fire had said that there were two little girls who lived there, so I started looking around. The flames were coming through the closet door and licking up the back wall. I pried the door open with my ax. It gave way. The clothes were on fire, and there was the little one. It was pitiful."

Members of the rescue squad administered first aid and then rushed the children to the burn unit at Children's Hospital, while firemen fought the fire for 20 minutes before bringing it under control.

Fire officials said the girls' grandfather was not at home when the fire broke out. A friend of his who had been asleep in the apartment when the fire broke out escaped without injury.