Fire officials ruled yesterday that the fire that damaged 14 rowhouses in the Cobbs Creek section of the city Saturday night had been deliberately set.

"The fire started on the front porch of one of the houses on the block shortly before 11:30 p.m.," Executive Fire Chief Daniel Williams said.

"An open flame was applied to everyday materials such as paper, rags, etc.," Williams added.

Officials also said high winds had played a role in how quickly the fire spread.

Williams said it took firefighters close to 90 minutes to control the three-alarm blaze. Two women and a man were taken to local hospitals to be treated for nonlife- threatening injuries.

A police source said residents on Cedar Avenue interviewed by police had told them that a resident on the block had been overheard by neighbors saying she was going to "burn the mother------- house down."

The source also added that a white car was seen fleeing the block shortly after the fire began.

Sunday afternoon, residents began cleaning up.

"It's devastating, it's traumatic, it's absolutely sickening," said Cynthia, a 48-year resident of the block, who asked that her last name not be used.

She stood on her porch just a few feet away from where the blaze began, shaking her head at the notion of the fire having been intentionally set.

Another woman, Chanel, who also asked that her last name not be used, was cleaning up her house, a couple of doors down from where the blaze broke out.

"I was at work when it all happened," she said. " My grandmom was in the house asleep and my son was around at the corner store.

"My son came back from the store and saw that everything was on fire. He almost couldn't get back in the house to save my grandmother," she said as she sprayed some stuffed animals with disinfectant to rid them of the smoky stench.

"As long as everyone is OK, I guess it's all right," said Bitsy, another neighbor whose porch was destroyed in the blaze.

"It's just such a selfish act." *