Montgomery County police officers were being credited with saving the life of a 61-year-old Rockville woman early yesterday after fire engulfed her wood-frame house at 234 Falls Rd.

The fire began when an unsealed container of kerosene near a heater ignited. Fire Capt. Ray Mulhall said that Adrian Lodders was asleep in a second-floor bedroom when she was awakened by the smell of smoke. She woke her husband William S. Lodders, 77, who went downstairs. Investigators believe that the fire forced William Lodders to run out the front door. Officer James Cunningham, on patrol, saw heavy smoke coming from the house and noticed Lodders standing outside. Lodders, who Cunningham said appeared to be in shock, told the officer that his wife was trapped in the rear bedroom.

Cunningham, an eight-year member of the force, said he radioed for help and then "tried to go in the front door but the smoke was too thick, flames were coming out of the house." He went to the rear of the two-story Cape Cod where he "heard somebody yelling, but it was so dark and thick with smoke that I couldn't see anybody. I saw an open window and told her put her head out. She did for a minute, and then went back into the house," Cunningham said. "I yelled again for her to put her head out so she she could breathe."

Moments later, other county police officers arrived. Officers James M. Daly and James P. Hennessy found a ladder in the snowy yard and put it up against the house. Adrian Lodders was helped down the ladder and into an ambulance. She and her husband were taken to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhalation.

Mulhall credited the officers with saving the woman's life. "The fire department would have been severely hampered in getting her out because of the way it spread," Mulhall said. "It was moving quickly. We can only do so much."