The husband and wife killed Wednesday morning in a house fire in Naperville are being remembered for their kind and gentle nature as fire investigators continue to probe the cause of the blaze.
Investigators with the Naperville Fire Department determined the fire on the 1200 block of Field Court was not suspicious, but had not zeroed in on its cause or point of origin as of Thursday, Bureau Chief Mark Thurow said.
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While the DuPage County coroner's office has not confirmed the identities of those who died, friends and neighbors are mourning Tom and Jan Lambert with prayers and crosses placed outside their home.
Tom had been battling brain cancer for the past year and a half, fighting an aggressive type of tumor called glioblastoma multiforme that forced him to give up his psychology practice in Naperville and his love for running. Jan was blind as a result of a different kind of brain tumor she suffered more than 25 years ago, friends and neighbors said.
"Tom was very soft-spoken ... he had a nice, soft, gentle sense of humor. And Jan was special," said Mike Collins of Barrington Hills, who has known the Lamberts for about 15 years through a men's group with Third Unitarian Church in Chicago. "She pretended she was Irish but she isn't. She could come out with an Irish brogue that was just the real thing and she would chat away as if she was from Ireland just for the fun of it."
The scene at the end of a cul-de-sac near Aurora Avenue and River Road was much quieter Thursday than on Wednesday morning, when dozens of emergency vehicles screamed to the area in the aftermath of the fire that began about 6:50 a.m.
A day later, with the scent of smoke still in the air, snow melted and squirrels climbed atop pieces of siding, windows and doors piled where the entrance to the two-story house used to be.
Missing from the house were not only Tom and Jan, but the other three people who were home at the time of the fire.
Tom's sister, Patricia Carhoff, was treated and released Wednesday from Edward Hospital, and his father, John Lambert, remained there in good condition Thursday afternoon.
The Lamberts' caregiver, a 21-year-old man who suffered more serious smoke inhalation injuries, was still in treatment at Loyola University Medical Center.
Thurow said fire investigators continued sifting through debris in the badly burned house, but the extent of damage is making their probe a challenge. Parts of the second floor collapsed into the basement, and Thurow said the two who perished "may have been a victim of the collapse."
The house has been deemed uninhabitable and will be torn down once the investigation is complete.
While investigators do not yet know what sparked the fire, they have identified factors that could have caused it to burn hot enough to singe some of the siding on a neighboring house. A gas line ruptured and fed the flames until Nicor could shut it off, and Thurow said there were oxygen tanks in the house.
"Fire needs oxygen and if you provide it with a supplemental source of oxygen, it will burn more aggressively," he said.
Authorities believe the home had working smoke detectors because Carhoff told investigators she was awakened by an alarm before escaping the house with her father. When the first firefighters arrived at 6:53 a.m., she and John Lambert were leaving the house, but Tom and Jan Lambert and their caregiver may have been trapped upstairs.
Firefighters were able to rescue the 21-year-old man, but did not find Tom and Jan until a secondary search after the floor collapsed.
"Obviously, this was not the outcome we would like to have," Thurow said. "Our crews did a remarkable job in saving the people that they were able to."