A 5-year-old boy managed to rouse the sleeping occupants of a burning Washington home yesterday in time for them to escape, then perished when he slipped unnoticed back into the house in a futile attempt to rescue a pet dog.

The boy, James Whitehurst, had been routinely dropped off at the house, the home of his uncle, at about 5:50 a.m. by his working mother, family members said. When the fire, apparently caused by a short circuit in the living room, began 20 minutes later, James ran to alert family members.

"He woke me up," said his uncle, Earl Chapman Sr., who said he was able to warn the seven other sleeping members of his family as a result. "I got him out of the house (and) told him to stay by the light pole."

". . .Nobody knew he had gone back in," said Chapman's son, Earl Jr.

The boy's body was found near the second-floor window through which the three Chapman children and two grandchildren escaped unharmed.

Found nearby, under a charred bed, was the body of the dog that the child had been trying to save.

The Whitehurst child apparently had been overcome by smoke near the window and then died as a result of his burns, fire officials said.

"I got him out of the house," the elder Chapman said quietly. "That's what's hurting me."

The fire destroyed the two-story frame house at 1048 48th St. NE. The only items the Chapman family could salvage yesterday were several paper bags full of burned belongings and a few clothes that had been drying on an outdoor line when the fire occured.

Relatives described James as playful, cheerful and helpful. "He'd run errands and try to pick things up that were bigger than he was," recalled Earl Jr., who had stood underneath the window catching the younger children as his brother Roy dropped them to safety during the fire

"Everybody loved him," said Nancy Chapman, Earl Sr.'s wife. "He was always smiling. And he was fond of the dog."

The dog that James apparently had been trying to rescue was called Dale. Two other family dogs, Snook and Chico, escaped the fire.

"I had to pry his hand off Dale to get him to go outside," said Earl Sr.

"All he had to do was call those dogs," said Minnie Gardner, Mrs. Chapman's sister. "Nobody messed with Jim-Jim on account of those dogs."

Yesterday, the family eas staying across the street from their burned home the apartment of Elizabeth Whitehurst, James' mother. The woman whose only child died in the blaze spent much of the day sedated and asleep.

"Every time I think of him, I feel like crying," said Earl Jr. "Those fat cheeks, my man James." CAPTION: Picture 1, James Whitehurst . . ."he was always smiling"; Picture 2, Snook, a family pet wanders outside burned-out home after a fire that killed a 5-year-old boy. By Ken Feil -- The Washington Post