Doris Davis liked to keep things.

When relatives died, Davis stockpiled their belongings out of sentimentality and frugality. Newspapers and magazines stacked by the dozen, shoes towered in one room nearly to the ceiling and most rooms in her West Philadelphia apartment were navigable only by a narrow path winding through the mountainous mess, neighbors said.

Her friend Paul Davis, no relation, had recently started helping her clear the clutter, worried that it was a fire hazard.

But his efforts weren't enough to save Davis, 79, when fire raced through her second-floor apartment on Ludlow Street near 61st, late Tuesday.

Davis, a former block captain, was found dead in a second-floor hallway, after firefighters spent 40 minutes fighting the 11 p.m. blaze, said Chief Daniel Williams, a fire spokesman. The apartment's clutter made for a tough battle against the blaze, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers added.

A firefighter trying to ventilate the burning home fell from a second-floor window and was treated at Hahnemann University Hospital for minor injuries, Williams said.

Davis' sister Jean Pollard, who lived in the gray-stone rowhouse's first floor, was receiving care and shelter from the American Red Cross.

Authorities found no smoke detectors in the home.

Fire investigators hadn't determined the fire's cause as of yesterday. Neighbors said Davis was a heavy cigarette-smoker.

"It's a tragedy; I miss her already," said Paul Davis, 58, whose mother, Janet Scales, has lived next door to the sisters for more than two decades.

Robin Thomas, 13, was sleeping when a burning stench jolted her awake.

"It was real strong, like burnt rubber," said Thomas, who lives with her great-grandmother Scales next-door.

She peered out her window and saw light in Doris Davis' bathroom window.

"I just thought she was using the bathroom, but then I realized that was fire," said Thomas, adding that she hurried to call 9-1-1, awaken her relatives and get out of the house.

Yesterday, Paul Davis added charred debris to the newspapers in garbage bags he'd dumped curbside in the days before the fire.

He mourned Doris Davis as a generous neighbor whose community involvement waned in recent years as health problems sidelined her.

"She had a couple of strokes over the years, and she had to sell her car because she couldn't see to drive," Davis said, adding that both sisters used walking canes to get around. "She was very incapacitated."

She lost her middle-aged daughter about a year ago to a long illness that had disabled her, Paul Davis added.

Neighbors said they had assumed the sisters had smoke detectors, because they had a security system that beeped when someone opened the door.

"Sometimes you just take things for granted," Davis said, sighing heavily.

City firefighters will install free smoke alarms for residents who can't afford them. Call the smoke alarm hot line at 215-686-1176. *