A 35-year-old man has been arrested and charged with setting a $70,000 fire Wednesday in the Laurel town house of his estranged wife, D.C. police and Prince George's County fire officials reported.

Police said Robert John Shelly of no fixed address was arrested by D.C. police at an upper Connecticut Avenue restaurant Wednesday night during a meeting with television newswoman Renee Poussaint.

He was arrested on a fugitive warrant from Prince George's County, where he had been charged with arson in a fire at 12103 Pheasant Run Dr. in Laurel, D.C. and Prince George's police said. No injuries were reported in the blaze, which damaged two adjacent town houses and displaced three families.

Sue Ferrara, an editor for WJLA-TV, said a man called the station about 7 p.m. Wednesday, claimed responsibility for a fire, and threatened to commit suicide unless he was allowed to speak to anchorwoman Poussaint.

Ferrara said the caller claimed that he warned neighbors that the house was ablaze and said "he did not want to hurt anybody."

Ferrara said she checked with police, confirmed that a fire had occurred and told officials about the caller's statements. Poussaint said yesterday in a telephone interview that after talking with the caller, she met a man at a Connecticut Avenue restaurant who identified himself as the caller. Poussaint said that, unknown to the man, D.C. police officers were seated at an adjacent table.

Poussaint said she talked to the man for nearly two hours and during the conversation she persuaded him to seek psychiatric help. She said she later told the man two undercover officers were seated nearby, and she urged him to surrender.

Shelly was arraigned in D.C. Superior Court yesterday and was ordered held without bond pending an extradition hearing.