A resident of Rishon Letzion and her children, aged six and eight, were rescued yesterday after a fire broke out in their apartment on Stephen Wise street around 9:30 A.M. and quickly engulfed the place.

The three were brought to safety by a police detective who lives nearby and by two municipal inspectors. The fire department was called when people in the area saw smoke billowing from the apartment.

One of the woman's neighbors, an intelligence coordinator at the Rishon police department, heard burning window blinds and rushed to help. He tried to break open the front door of the apartment, which was locked. He later recalled hearing the woman cry once for help but heard nothing further and feared the worst.

When a neighbor arrived with an ax, the policeman managed to break open the door and was joined by the city inspectors who had received reports of the blaze.

One of the municipal inspectors, Oren Levy, reportedly wrapped himself in wet blankets and attempted to enter the apartment, but the flames forced him to retreat.

Outside the building, the three rescuers climbed a ladder put up by a neighbor, and they found the woman and her two children. She apparently handed the children to the policeman one at a time, and then the rescuers pulled her to safety.

She suffered facial burns, and her hair had been scorched. One of the municipal inspectors carried her to a Magen David Adom mobile intensive care vehicle that had arrived on the scene. She was taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin in serious condition.

Municipal firefighters who arrived at the scene worked for a considerable time to bring the blaze under control.

Ten residents of other apartments in the building suffered from light smoke inhalation. An initial fire department investigation suggests the fire was caused by one of the woman's children, who was said to have been playing with a cigarette lighter on a living room couch.