Deep in sleep, William Heavey, of Bethesda, awoke yesterday around 6 a.m. to an adult newspaper carrier screaming beneath his bedroom window. "He said, `Get out! Your house is on fire!' " said Heavey, 79.

"I first thought it was a joke, but I smelled the smoke and realized it was not a joke," Heavey said.

Heavey said he and his wife, Betsy, made a dash for the door in their pajamas as their kitchen, and eventually their two-story colonial in the 9500 block of Newbold Place, went up in flames. He said both of his dogs were asleep in the bedroom, and only one followed him outside. Firefighters rescued the other one, a 15-year-old mutt named Hannah.

Montgomery County Fire Capt. Eric Ramacciotti said the fire stemmed from an electrical wiring problem, and he estimated the damage at $350,000.

Heavey said he never got a chance to thank The Washington Post carrier, who had a neighbor call 911 before he rousted the couple out of bed. The carrier, later identified as Avisai Bello, 27, didn't stick around, telling neighbor Carol Becker he had to complete his route.

"I certainly would like to thank him," Heavey said. "We appreciate his concern, and we owe him a lot."

Bello said he doesn't deliver papers on the block but was driving down the street to his route when he smelled smoke and stopped to help out. "I was happy" to help, he said, adding that he told his friends, "I feel like a hero."