Friends and neighbors Thursday continued to mourn the loss of Tom and Jan Lambert, who died in a fire inside their Naperville home on Wednesday.
Two small crosses have been placed at the end of the driveway of their house at 1212 Field Court on Naperville’s west side to honor the couple. Nearby, flowers and a heart bearing the names Tom and Jan were propped against a tree.
Naperville resident Lee Thomsen did his best to remain stoic in the aftermath of the fire that claimed the lives of two of his friends, a man battling brain cancer and his blind wife.
“I’m a handyman who has compassion for helping people,” said Thomsen, of Naperville’s far southeast side. “I’m a longtime friend of their neighbor’s, and I’ve known (the couple) for three years.”
“I came over to visit their neighbor (Tuesday night), and Tom (Lambert), by coincidence, called and asked me to see if his snowblower would start,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen said he believed the Lamberts had been married for more than 20 years. They lived in the house with Tom Lambert’s 84-year-old father and Lambert’s sister, Patty Lambert, 56, who had recently moved to Naperville from Arizona to help the couple “take care of their daily needs,” Thomsen said.
An unidentified 21-year-old man who was a full-time caregiver, along with Patty Lambert and Tom Lambert’s father, were all hurt in the fire. Naperville Fire Department Bureau Chief Mark Thurow said the younger man was hospitalized in critical condition, while the other two sustained non life-threatening injuries.
Thomsen said Tom Lambert, who worked as a psychologist in Naperville, began fighting brain cancer about 18 months ago. He was coping with an aggressive type of brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. He was hoping to be accepted in a clinical trial at the Cleveland Clinic.
Jan Lambert “went blind 28 years ago due to brain cancer,” Thomsen said.
“Tom (Lambert) was starting to use a wheelchair, but not in the house,” Thomsen said.
“It’s very tragic,” Thomsen said of the fire. “I’m confident that mobility issues ... were issues that affected the outcome of the situation.”
A neighbor called 911 at approximately 6:50 a.m. Wednesday to report flames and smoke coming from the rear of the two-story single-family home. When the first fire crew arrived on the scene about three minutes later, they reported that the house was engulfed in flames.
“We had heavy fire coming out of the windows on the first and second floor,” Deputy Naperville Fire Chief Rick Sander said.
Firefighters began a search of the building and were able to rescue one of the occupants, the 21-year-old male. He was transported in critical condition to Edward Hospital in Naperville.
“Shortly after (he) was rescued from the second floor, firefighters were pulled from the building for fear of collapse,” Thurow said.
When firefighters re-entered the building they were able to find the bodies of Tom and Jan Lambert in the rear of the home.
The house is at 1212 Field Court in Naperville, which is located east of River Road between Jefferson and Aurora avenues.
Naperville Fire Division Chief Mark Ziemnik said that the floor of a second-floor bedroom collapsed during the fire.
Sean Burke, who lives several doors away from the Lambert home, said he first heard the arrival of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles early in the morning.
“I was just waking up,” Burke said.
One fire truck or ambulance went down nearby Berry Drive, “and then I heard another and another,” Burke said. “I got dressed and went outside. The house was on fire, but it hadn’t really started up yet.”
A fire commander parked his vehicle in Burke’s driveway.
“I heard loud and clear a fireman yelling, ‘three people trapped upstairs’” in a report broadcast over the chief’s radio, Burke said.
A woman identified as being a caregiver to Tom or Jan Lambert was visibly shaken as she arrived at the scene of the fire. She waved away several reporters and got into her car without speaking.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, although Sander said the fire doesn’t appear to be suspicious or criminal in nature.
Portions of the upper level of the home collapsed into the lower level. Building inspectors from the city have evaluated the structure and it will be torn down once the necessary information regarding the cause and origin of the fire has been collected.
Damage to the property has been placed in excess of $200,000 to the structure itself.
The occupants of a neighboring home were evacuated for a short time because of the risks posed by a ruptured natural gas line, fire officials said.
The Naperville Fire Department was assisted at the scene and at other calls in the city by units of the Aurora, Downers Grove, Lisle-Woodridge, Lockport, Plainfield, Warrenville and Winfield Fire Departments. Additional help was provided by members of the Naperville Emergency Management Agency, Naperville Electric Department, NICOR, Naperville Public Works Department, inspectors from the Naperville Transportation, Engineering and Development Department and the Naperville Police Department.