A baby girl, born on a bitter cold Christmas night, was found abandoned on a Temple Hills street yesterday wrapped only in a paper towel, Prince George's County police said.

Tesa Scott, 20, of the 3700 block of Dunlap Street, said she discovered the 12-hour-old infant about 7:30 a.m. yesterday after hearing what she thought was a kitten's cry as she was taking out her garbage.

Scott said she followed the noise to a wooden desk that had been dumped nearby and found the shivering baby lying inside a partially closed file drawer, covered only by a paper towel.

"I thought it was a cat, because there's a cat around here getting ready to have kittens," said Scott, who works out of her home caring for her 20-month-old daughter and two other small children. "When I looked in the drawer and saw the baby, I just knew I had to get it inside."

Police said detectives spent most of yesterday going door-to-door in Temple Hills in an effort to learn the mother's identity, asking residents if they knew a woman who had recently been pregnant. By last night, they still had no leads.

An ambulance took the infant to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where she was reported to be in good condition with no immediate health problems. She weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces, a sign that her mother carried her to term.

Authorities said they are unsure how long the baby, who is being called Jane Doe, was left outside, but said if she had not been found, she could easily have died of hypothermia or suffered permanent injury from exposure. An infant boy found in a Roanoke trash bin last week died from exposure after enduring the cold for two to four hours after his birth.

Although the body temperature of the baby found in Temple Hills was just 93.7 degrees when she was brought to the emergency room yesterday, it had returned to normal by afternoon after she was exposed to hours of direct, radiant heat, said Audrey Cobb, the hospital neonatologist who treated the child.

"She is very vigorous and very healthy," Cobb said, adding that Jane Doe did not show signs of having been exposed to drugs while in the womb, which would have indicated that her mother was probably a drug addict.

Sgt. Chuck Cook, a police spokesman, said that although child abandonment and endangering the life of a child are both felonies, the purpose of the police investigation at this point is not to seek criminal charges against Jane Doe's mother, but to ensure that the woman's health is protected.

"We are not out looking for the mother to hunt her like a suspect. We are looking for her to make sure she gets the proper medical attention she needs. If she doesn't, we may find ourselves conducting a death investigation on top of this one," Cook said.

Audrey Sutton, deputy director for social services in Prince George's, said the agency plans to go to court this week to obtain legal custody of the infant, with an eye toward arranging temporary foster care or adoption.

Sutton said if the child's parents or other relatives are located, the baby could be returned to them if a judge determines that is in the child's best interests. But Sutton said that parents have not been found in any of the six abandoned baby cases she has handled during the last four years in Prince George's.

Scott, who lives with her grandmother and daughter, said she would like to adopt the baby girl if her parents are not found.

"She needs someone," Scott said. "Whoever left her in my yard must have seen that I have a daughter of my own and I take good care of her. That must have been what they wanted."

Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.