WASHINGTON – Sheila Lowe and her young children escaped injury late Thursday when an unknown man apparently set her home afire, then threatened her with a weapon, police said Friday.

State police Trooper Pat Hood said Lowe awoke and found an armed man in her home. The man fled when the smoke alarm sounded. At that point, Lowe realized her home was on fire, roused her sleeping children and got everyone out of the house safely.

Hood said Lowe could not see what kind of weapon the man had because the room was dark. Lowe reported the incident at 9:45 p.m. after driving to a neighbor’s house with her children.

Lowe’s father, Allen Jackson, who owns a salvage business on Route 17, said his daughter and her children are in a safe place while the incident is being investigated by state police and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Fire Marshal’s Office is calling the fire at 316 Bill Luce Road a case of arson. The fire was set on the ground floor of the split-level home.

Washington Fire Chief Tom Johnston said it didn’t take long to extinguish the fire. The home is just down the road from Washington’s fire station.

State police and fire marshal inspectors were at the home for several hours Friday. Troopers brought in a tracking dog but found no suspect.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state police, said the gunman was wearing dark clothing, a ski mask and gloves.

“The woman told police she struggled with the intruder inside the house and sustained minor injuries but did not require hospitalization,” McCausland said. “Investigators said the fire started in the basement and caused heavy fire damage to that floor and smoke damage throughout” the house.

On Friday, the pale yellow home with a swing set in the side yard showed no fire damage.

Missy Vigue, who lives less than a half-mile away on the rural road, said she was shocked to hear of the incident. People in Washington know each other and are always willing to lend a hand, she said.

Vigue said Lowe came to the aid of her family when their home was destroyed by fire in June 2008.

“We hadn’t met,” Vigue said. “But here she was at the end of my driveway, offering to help. She gave my children breakfast, found us diapers and clothing and took care of us all day long.”

Vigue said the incident has made her feel less secure. “We’re going to keep our alarm on. That’s for sure.”