A 39-year-old St. Mary's County woman has been charged with first-degree arson in a fire at her house that began early Tuesday morning after an argument with her husband.

Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Duane K. Svites said the fire at 39390 Sunnyside Rd. in Clements started shortly before 5:30 a.m. when Lori M. Dickerson lighted a can of Sterno cooking fuel and threw it past her husband onto their bed. The fire quickly burned up the bedroom and spread throughout the house.

Five people were in the house at the time, including Dickerson's husband, Francis, and their 11-year-old son, who was asleep. All occupants escaped injury, Svites said, except for the Dickersons' cat, Tabitha, which died in the blaze.

Lori and Francis Dickerson, 41, apparently had quarreled earlier, according to a report filed by the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office. That report said Lori Dickerson left the one-story prefabricated residence before the fire, threatening those in the house.

Quiana Hill, 22, a neighbor and relative of the Dickersons', said she woke up Tuesday morning to the sight of her great uncle, Francis "Moochie" Dickerson, trying to put out the flames with a garden hose while firefighters were en route.

She said Lori Dickerson came over to the house just after the fire, asking to use the telephone to call the police about the altercation with her husband. The Dickersons did not have a phone in their home, Hill said.

Twenty-five firefighters responded to the blaze at the three-bedroom house. On Tuesday afternoon, the lawn was littered with charred televisions, furniture and clothing. During the fire, flames could be seen near two propane tanks on the side of the house, but they did not ignite.

"Everything is completely gone," Hill said. "They were in their underwear out there."

In addition to arson, Lori Dickerson has been charged with four counts of reckless endangerment and one count of property destruction. She was held at the St. Mary's County Detention Center. The house and its contents were valued at $200,000, according to a state fire marshal report.

Relatives are planning a benefit dinner to raise money to help the Dickersons replace items lost in the blaze. Hill said she did not think her relatives had fire insurance.