A fire started by a lighted cigarette spread from the bedroom of an apartment in Northeast Washington and quickly engulfed the apartment about midnight Saturday, killing three persons and injuring a fourth.

One victim was trapped by the flames as he tried to awaken the three other occupants of the third-story apartment at 2029 Benning Rd. NE, according to neighbors.

D.C. police identified the victims yesterday as Julia Odem, James Washington and James Robert Majors, all of whom died of smoke inhalation. Odem's daughter, Agnes Scott, was listed late yesterday in critical condition in D.C. General Hospital.

According to neighbors and police, the fire started in a rear bedroom on the third floor of the brick residential-commercial building near 21st and Benning Road NE.

"I smelled smoke about 10 p.m.," said Helen Lee, owner of a grocery store next door to the apartment building.

Lee said she checked her store, but could find no sign of smoke. Shortly before midnight, Lee said, she smelled "more smoke."

A neighborhood youth saw flames shooting through the window of a back room of the third floor apartment and ran to a neighbor, who called the fire department.

Firefighters arrived shortly after midnight.

Majors, whom neighbors called "Jimmie," apparently tried to wake up the other occupants of the apartment once the first started, according to officials.

Majors and Scott were sleeping in the front living room. Washington and Odem were in the bedroom in the rear of the apartment, which is above the Bus Stop Barber Shop.

Once they entered the apartment, firefighters found Majors, Odem and Scott. Washington's body was discovered on the third floor after the fire was extinguished about 25 minutes after firefighters arrived, according to police.

Julia Odem, who was in her 70s, rented the apartment.

Known only as Julia to her neighbors, the short woman had become a fixture in the Benning Road neighborhood where she had lived for nearly 20 years.

"She was a very nice lady," said Ronald Hughes, standing in the grocery store next door.

"She was active," Hughes said. "She got out and walked around every day. Sometimes she walked with a cane. Everybody in the neighborhood knew her."

Thomas Perry, Odem's 21-year-old cousin, said Odem often would befriend people in the neighborhood, allowing them to stay overnight in her tiny apartment when they had nowhere else to go. She also liked to feed cats and had been called the "Cat Lady" when she lived in the Kenilworth area years ago.

"She was a lot of fun," Perry said. "She would chase me to school in the morning when I was groing up."

Perry said Odem once lived in the basement of his family's home on 21st Street. Odem was 79 years old, he said.

About 10 years ago, Odem moved to the one-bedroom apartment above the barber shop. She rented the apartment for $150 a month, Perry said.

Washington moved in with Odem, Perry said. Neighbors said Washington was called "Dickie" and was in his 70s.

About a year ago, Odem's daughter, Agnes Scott, 42, and James Robert Majors moved in with the couple. Majors, who Perry said was in his 40s, worked at the Florida Avenue market.

Fire officials yesterday said the damage to the apartment is undetermined.