It may have burned for several days, but the fire that destroyed a lyceum on the Issaquah-Fall City Road wasn't discovered until school maintenance workers went to the site last week to ready it for the new school year.
Les Eaton, a King County fire marshal's investigator, said there is no way to determine how the fire started in the open-air structure, rebuilt five years ago by Seattle's Garfield High School students in the 131-acre Cleveland Memorial Forest.
Neighbors say cars often were parked along the road and that the building, deep inside the forest, was frequented by young people having parties.
"There were scorched beer cans and the kind of stuff you wouldn't find at a supervised school activity," Eaton said.
The original 25-by-60-foot structure, with a fire pit and chimney cone hanging from the rafters, was built in the 1970s. It was later condemned because of a badly decaying roof, said Tom Hudson, forest ecology teacher at Garfield High.
In 1994, Garfield students, teachers and parents pitched in and rebuilt the roof. King County gave the school a $25,000 grant for materials.
Hudson, who said a half-melted plastic gas can was found in the bushes, said the site has been a target of vandals for a number of years. Other small buildings on the site have been broken into and graffiti scrawled on buildings.
"Kids from schools on the Eastside use it regularly for keg parties," he said.
The forest is used for ecology lessons and wilderness survival programs. Hudson's students also conduct interpretive outings for elementary students throughout the school district.
Hudson said plans are under way to raise money to buy materials to rebuild the lyceum.
The forest, halfway between Issaquah and Fall City, was purchased by students in the Cleveland High School graduating classes of 1943 and 1944 to honor classmates who were killed during World War II. Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the King County Fire Marshal's Office at 206-296-6670 and ask for Les Eaton. All calls will be kept confidential.