A 70-year-old Northwest woman trying to escape thick smoke accumulating in her house because of a fire next door was helped to safety last night by two passersby who spotted the flames, broke a window and led her outside, D.C. fire officials said.

The fire was reported about 8 p.m. in a two-story brick row house at 3041 Sherman Ave. NW when passing motorists noticed clouds of smoke and flames.

John Jordan, 25, and a friend who were driving by said they believed the fire was next door at 3043 Sherman Ave., and rushed to see if anyone was trapped inside. When Jordan reached the porch, he said, he noticed an elderly woman inside trying to get out.

With the fire raging next door, where no one was home, Jordan and David King, 25, another passerby, said they took metal bars off the window and smashed the window. Once inside, they helped the woman out and checked for other occupants.

Jordan said he "wrapped his hands around the lady," and led her outside. Both men were cut by glass shards from the broken window and were treated at the scene.

Deputy Fire Chief Rayfield Alfred said the woman, Eva Williams, was taken to the Washington Hospital Center where she was treated for smoke inhalation and released.

A firefighter who received minor burns also was treated at the hospital and released, Alfred said. The fire was extinguished within 20 minutes and no other injuries were reported. Fire investigators said the cause of the fire was suspicious and estimated damage at about $50,000. Cause of the fire was not known last night.