Retired D.C. Fire Chief Raymond C. Roberts, who spent 38 years with the D.C. Fire Department, 17 of them as the city's Fire Marshal, before retiring in 1964, died of cancer Thursday at Fairfax Hospital.

Chief Roberts, an expert on fire prevention and arson detection, succeeded Millard H. Sutton as D.C. Fire Chief in 1962, holding that post until retiring in July 1964.

Chief Roberts joined the department in July 1926 and served for a time on the city's fire boat before gaining a reputation as a crack arson investigator. In 1930, he was awarded a commendation for "extraordinary judgment and zeal" in the apprehension of a man who had set four blazes.

He was credited with solving many of the city's more baffling arson cases of the 1930s and 1940s, including fires set at a Kann's warehouse, and at Carberry School.

Chief Roberts made his mark on the department as Fire Marshal, a post he held from 1943 to 1960. During these years he helped organize and train the department's fire prevention division. He also arranged with area universities for instruction in arson detection.

He was a native of Indian Head, Md. After serving as Fire Marshal he was promoted to deputy chief, the department's number two post, in 1960. He held that post for 20 months until becoming chief in May 1962. A former resident of Washington and Silver Spring, Chief Roberts had lived in Ridge, Md., since 1967.

His marriage to the former Pauline Mothershead ended in divorce. Chief Roberts' survivors include his wife, Genevieve, of Ridge; a son by his first marriage, Raymond C. Jr. of Oxon Hill; a son by his second marriage, Robert Kevin Roberts of Ridge; two stepdaughters, Barbara Hinton of Baltimore, and Norma Ince of Scotland, Md., and one grandchild. A stepson, Richard Winter, died in October 1980.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to Fairfax Hospital or the Ridge, Md., Volunteer Rescue Squad.