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Man charged with murder for Chicago fire that killed man, infant, 2 girls

CHICAGO  — A 51-year-old man has been charged with arson and murder for allegedly setting a South Chicago apartment building on fire last month, killing four people, including three children, reports CBS Chicago.

Melanie Watson, 3 months old (left), Madison Watson, 4 years old (middle), and Shaniyah Staples, 7 years old (right), were killed in a fire in South Chicago neighborhood on Aug. 23, 2016. An adult neighbor also died in the blaze.   CBS Chicago

Reginald Hester was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson. Police say Hester deliberately set fire to an apartment building located about a block away from his home on Aug. 23.

Prosecutors said the fire was set in two locations, and quickly spread, trapping residents on the upper floors.

Three young sisters – 3-month-old Melanie Watson, 4-year-old Madison Watson, and 7-year-old Shaniya Staples – were killed in the blaze, along with 56-year-old Kirk Johnson, who lived in a neighboring apartment.

The girls’ father, 36-year-old Michael Watson, jumped from a third-floor window with Melanie in his arms, in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. He was hospitalized in critical condition. Melanie was pronounced dead at Comer Children’s hospital.

The other two girls and their neighbor who died were not found until hours after the fire was put out.

Autopsies revealed all four victims died of smoke inhalation and burns. Melanie also suffered injuries from the fall.

Kirk Johnson died, along with three young girls, in a fire in South Chicago on Aug. 23, 2016.  CBS Chicago

Detectives questioned Hester the day after the fire, but released him without charges. He was taken in for questioning again on Tuesday, and police announced the charges early Wednesday.

After the fire broke out, his family admitted he had been in an argument with someone in the building, but denied he had anything to do with the blaze.

He is expected to appear for a bond hearing Wednesday afternoon.