KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) _ A county politician whose three children died in a fire has been charged with murder and aggravated arson in connection with their deaths and the death of a fourth child, authorities said today.

Bernon Howery, a Kankakee County Board member, was ordered held without bond at a court hearing this morning, said Assistant State's Attorney Brenda Gorski. He is charged with four counts of murder and one count of aggravated arson, she said.

The case is to go to a grand jury Friday, and arraignment is scheduled for next Monday, Ms. Gorski said.

Police decided to hold Howery on Sunday, after a second round of questioning following Saturday's fire, she said.

''He's the only person that we've charged,'' Ms. Gorski said, though several other people were questioned.

The bodies of Justina Howery, 5, her sister, Prima, 10, their brother, Joel, 9, all Howery's children; and their half sister, Ledonja Walls, 11, were found early Saturday in an upstairs closet a short time after a fire engulfed their mother's Kankakee home.

The fire appeared to have been started in piles of clothes placed at several locations in the house, according to Kankakee Police Lt. William Cantrell.

Kankakee County Coroner James Orrison said the victims died of smoke inhalation. Their mother and their uncle, who lived with them, were away at the time of the incident, officials said. Howery lives near them.