updated 3/12/2007 3:27:08 PM ET 2007-03-12T19:27:08

A woman accused of starting a series of house fires near Wrigley Field during the weekend was charged Monday with four counts of murder, authorities said.

Witnesses had reported seeing an unkempt woman wearing clear plastic bags on her feet near three small fires that broke out in the area late Friday and early Saturday, according to Edward O’Donnell, commander of the police department’s bomb and arson unit.

The fourth blaze, reported Saturday morning within walking distance of the others, began in a three-story apartment house’s front stairwell and spread, killing four people inside, fire officials said.

Mary Smith was questioned after the fires and charged Monday with two counts of aggravated arson and four counts of first-degree murder, the Cook County state’s attorneys office said. She was described as in her 40s. No further information about her was immediately available.

Police had brought the woman in for questioning after finding her on the street late Saturday with “an odor of smoke,” police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

Three of the victims were men in their 20s, police said. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office had not identified them Monday, and an official said the office was awaiting dental records.

The fourth victim was Jennifer Carlson, 24, said her aunt, Cheryl Greenlee. Family members originally feared Carlson’s 4-year-old son died in the fire, but the little boy had been with baby sitter because his mother had worked late at a restaurant.

Witness statements and other evidence linked Smith to the smaller fires, police said. One of the arson counts is connected to one of the smaller fires.

O’Donnell said one small fire was started in a building stairwell, another was reported on a sidewalk and a third was located on a front porch, all likely started with newspapers and trash. A homeowner extinguished one of the fires, and the other two were out by the time firefighters arrived, he said.

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