A half-dozen customers were shopping at a T-Mobile store in Clinton yesterday morning when a man walked in clutching a 20-ounce green Sprite bottle filled with gasoline, Prince George's County police said.

The man quickly scanned the room for his estranged wife, an employee at the store, and when he saw her behind the counter, he flung the gas at her face, according to police.

She ran to the back of the store, and he followed, still hurling the gas in her direction. She dashed outside. He lighted several matches and threw them on her, setting her on fire.

With flames leaping off her body, the woman stumbled back inside. A customer threw a towel on her, dousing the flames, said Cpl. Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for county police.

The woman, 31, was flown to a hospital with third-degree burns, the most serious level of burn, covering half her torso and face, Richardson said.

Police did not identify the woman; they described her condition last night as serious.

"She looked like she was really hurt," said Chardae Mays, an employee at a nearby Pizza Hut who saw the woman being carried away by paramedics.

The incident happened at 10:30 a.m. in the 8900 block of Woodyard Road in a strip mall shopping center near Andrews Air Force Base.

The assailant, identified by police as Roger B. Hargrave, 33, of Temple Hills, was arrested last night after police obtained a warrant charging him with attempted murder and with assault.

Police said he has a history of violence and criminal convictions.

Richardson said the crime was especially brazen because the assailant did not try to conceal his identity and acted in the middle of a crowded store. A child of about 8 was in the store, she said.

"His intent was to hurt [the victim] and that's it," Richardson said. "He didn't care who saw him."

The T-Mobile store was closed after the incident and will remain closed until further notice, said Bryan Zidar, a spokesman for T-Mobile USA.

"We're shocked and saddened that a member of the T-Mobile family was the victim of a dreadful crime," Zidar said in an e-mailed statement.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the employee and her family. We are working closely with law enforcement to help bring the suspect to justice."

Police said the woman and her husband split in July after a rocky marriage that lasted several years. They are legally separated, Richardson said.

A Prince George's District Court judge granted the woman a year-long protective order in July, requiring Hargrave to stay away from her home and her workplace and to refrain from contacting her, court records show. At the time, there was a claim of domestic violence, according to the documents.

But three weeks ago, the judge dismissed the protective order, records show. Cpl. Kim Brown, a police spokeswoman, said last night that the woman had asked the judge in September to dismiss the order.

Hargrave has a history of arrests and convictions dating to a 1989 conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine. In 1994, he was found guilty of robbery, and in 1997 he was convicted of drug charges, as well as being a felon in possession of a gun, according to court documents.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt and staff writers Allan Lengel and Martin Weil contributed to this report.