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Fire Victims Recalled for Joy They Brought

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a mortuary chapel, partially hidden by a curtain, Lew Silvers wept on wife Judy’s shoulder, her cheek resting on the top of his head.

The couple Thursday mourned the deaths of their daughter Shawn, 28, and grandchildren Lance, 6, and Brittany, 4, in a house fire in Orange last week. Photos of the three were displayed prominently, a reminder of what had been lost in the tragedy.

As an organist played hymns and popular songs, the small chapel at Fairhaven Mortuary in Santa Ana filled to capacity. Mourners spilled out the doorways, standing under the sun-washed winter sky.

“Let us remember that the time we had with them was sweet and they brought great sunshine into our lives,” said the Rev. Stan Vanderberg of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Orange.

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The emotion was too much for Lew Silvers, who collapsed after the ceremony while greeting the family members and friends who had formed a long line to express their condolences. Rushing to Silvers’ aid immediately were Orange firefighters, who were among rescue personnel attending the funeral out of respect for the three whose lives they were unable to save.

The 66-year-old, who uses a wheelchair, was transported to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and treated for shortness of breath.

“He was just overwrought,” Judy Silvers said. “It was just too many people and he couldn’t breathe.”

For the solemn crowd who listened quietly to the words of the minister, the service seemed to offer some solace.

Vanderberg, one of the first to visit the family on the morning of the fire, called Lance a “cyclone.” Brittany, he said, “danced through life.” He recalled Shawn Silvers as a fifth-grade student in his Sunday school class who grew into a beautiful young woman and devoted mother.

“Tragedies like this make us question why. Why did God let this happen?” Vanderberg asked. “But God uses even bad things for his good, and I believe that good will come of this tragedy and lives will be saved that would not have been.”

Fire investigators said this week that they believe the deadly blaze was started by a cigarette that smoldered in a kitchen trash can. A smoke detector with a working battery was found in the house but was not connected.

Smoke filled the home for hours--also killing the family dog--before being detected by neighbors early Jan. 8. In the aftermath, local fire officials have urged residents to test smoke alarms monthly and replace the batteries twice a year.

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Capt. Chris Boyd of the Orange Fire Department and father of two children the same ages as Lance and Brittany said the tragedy hit close to home.

“It’s a job, but it’s more than that,” said Boyd, one of the first firefighters to arrive at the blaze on Hart Street. “When you see the sorrow and grief of a family, you really feel it. We all do.”

A collage of pictures for each victim was displayed in the front hall of the chapel: Lance flying down a water slide with hands high in the air, Brittany dressed as a fairy princess, Shawn with her children on her lap.

Henny Dieters, who taught Brittany at a Montessori preschool in Orange, said the child often made her day. She said the week since the death had been difficult for classmates, who miss the little girl and her rambunctious brother, both of whom had bright blue eyes and corn-silk hair.

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In a ceremony at the school, children released helium balloons to help them understand that Lance and Brittany are gone and cannot come back. “They want to know why she can’t visit,” Dieters said.

On the cardboard placard with Brittany’s pictures was a card from a young classmate: “I will miss you a lot. I will miss playing chase at playtime. Have fun in Heaven and a nice time with God. You are an angel with pretty hair.”

Judy Silvers said she and her husband are heartbroken but have found consolation in their faith and friends.

“I feel like our daughter is in a better place,” she said. “And she has her children with her and they were her whole life.”

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