Scooter Conde, 15, and Steve Betts, 16, said they had seen it done in the movies a million times: A bystander spots flames pouring from a house, neatly pounds a door from its hinges and rushes into the burning building to rescue the occupants.

The two South Arlington youths found out yesterday that real rescues don't always go so smoothly. But the two managed to kick open the stuck back door of a burning brick duplex at 2007 S. 27th St. and pull to safety the elderly woman who lived there.

Madeline J. Nutter, 70, was listed in fair condition at Washington Hospital Center, suffering smoke inhalation from the two-alarm blaze that swept through her house yesterday afternoon.

Arlington fire officials credited Conde and Betts with getting Nutter out of the house fast, before she was injured more seriously. "The longer you're in there, the more the situation deteriorates," said Lt. Michael Moultrie, a spokesman for the Arlington Fire Department.

About 20 firefighters from Arlington and Alexandria battled the blaze, which started at 2:15 p.m. and caused about $100,000 damage, fire officials said. They extinguished the fire in about 20 minutes, Moultrie said.

The cause of the fire, believed to have started on the first floor, is under investigation.

Conde and Betts, crouching on a neighbor's steps yesterday while firefighters pulled smoldering objects from Nutter's house, said they first spotted the flames as they drove home from Wakefield High School along S. 27th Street. "We tried to go through the front door," Betts said. When the lock refused to budge, he said, he ran to the back and kicked that door.

"It wasn't like in the movies. You kick the door and it won't go down," he said. When the lock finally broke, Betts said, "I saw a lady in the back, in the kitchen.

"The smoke was so thick I couldn't believe it. I was yelling, 'Come on, come on.' Then I looked again and she had fallen down," he said.

Betts said he pressed through the smoky room, grabbed the woman's feet and dragged her out of the house. "All this smoke was in my face. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see."

The two carried Nutter around to the front yard, and fire officials said she was there, conscious, when they arrived moments later.

Nutter, who lived in the house with her grandson, was taken to National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, then flown by helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center's shock-trauma unit.

Fire officials said they did not know whether the house contained smoke detectors.