Searchers recover dad's body from fire-ravaged Fox Island home

Staff writerDecember 6, 2013 

UPDATE: A search dog located the remains of Dr. Thomas Babson about 3:20 p.m. Friday in the debris of his burned-out Fox Island home, firefighters said.

Medical examiners were being called to the scene to retrieve his body, said Division Chief Eric Waters of the Gig Harbor Fire Department.

A procession of emergency vehicles will escort Babson's body to the Medical Examiner's Office in Tacoma later Friday afternoon, Waters said. 

PREVIOUS STORY: Firefighters have begun sifting through the upstairs bedrooms of a waterfront Fox Island home that burned late Wednesday and killed a beloved doctor and his youngest daughter.

They’re hoping to find the body of Thomas Babson, 62, who likely died trying to save his daughter from the blaze. The remains of Alice “Ali” Babson, 8, were recovered near the stairwell Thursday and escorted to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office by a line of sheriff’s deputies who worked with her father.

Babson was a reserve sheriff’s deputy attached to a lab team that investigated suspected methamphetamine houses and an emergency room physician at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma and St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor.

Fire crews worked through the night to put out hot spots at the blaze in the 400 block of Sixth Avenue Northwest. Firefighters resumed their search for Babson's remains about 8 a.m. An excavator is slowly removing pieces of the fallen structure while two teams of fire investigators inspect the wreckage.

"It’s too unsafe for us to be inside so we’re working from the outside in,” Gig Harbor Fire Division Chief Eric Waters said. “We are making some pretty good progress.”

With morning temperatures in the 20s, firefighters had to battle the elements as their hose lines froze and de-icers were again brought in to melt the ice forming on the house. Crews have searched about 1,200 square feet of the 6,800-square-foot house, including the garage and entryway.

Alice’s body was found near the stairwell, about 15 feet inside the home.

Investigators believe they’ll find Babson's body in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Firefighters are using ladders to crawl through the burnt out windows and look for his remains.

“Our focus now is all about recovering Tom’s body,” Battalion Chief Jason Black said.

New details emerged today about the fire and the family’s attempt to escape.

Black said the Babson family ran toward safety together but got outside and realized the twins – Alice and Tobey, both 8 – were no longer with them. The mother, June, stayed outside with their older daughter, Katie, 12, while Babson ran back inside.

A neighbor who saw flames from across the street was able to scoop up a soot-covered Tobey from inside the front door and bring him outside. Babson and Alice never came back out.

“We believe he thought the children were still upstairs,” Black said.

June Babson, Tobey and Katie were treated for smoke inhalation and released from the hospital.

Although investigators are still trying to figure out what started the fire, they do think it started near the kitchen and dining room area at the southwest corner of the house because that’s where the most extensive damage is.

Black said the fire moved faster than the average house fire but it’s unclear what caused the blaze to intensify so quickly. There was propane on the property but it’s unknown if that contributed to the fire.

About 20 firefighters continue to work the scene today, with a handful of sheriff’s deputies standing by to escort Babson’s body when it is pulled from the wreckage. The deputies stayed overnight so Babson’s body would not be alone.

"He trained and worked beside our people and always stood ready to risk himself to look after us," sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer wrote in a memo to the department. "He was truly a part of this agency family."

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