News

Suspicious fire in demo forest

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

A Sunday morning fire destroyed an abandoned A-frame building in the Washington State University Demonstration Forest at 20415 South Prairie Road.

East Pierce Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Dave Wakefield said the blaze was reported at 6:20 a.m. by a passing motorist driving on South Prairie Road and others.

By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, Wakefield said, the top floor of the building was “fully involved. It was an abandoned building fire and there were pretty good flames going. Our big concern was to get the fire out and not let anyone get hurt.”

There were no injuries and Wakefield said the fire was contained to the building and did not spread to any of the surrounding trees.

The top floor of the building was completely burned and the lower floors still had some walls standing.

The assistant chief said the firefighters reeled out 1,500 feet of hose from the nearest hydrant to fight the blaze.

The fire is being listed as “suspicious” and is under investigation.

The building was previously used as an office and caretaker's house. It was remodeled in June 2004 to provide accommodations for college interns while working on the educational programs including the 4-H Challenge Course offered by WSU in the nearly 150-acre forest.

The university has used the forest since 1941 when Weyerhaeuser deeded the land for educational purposes. WSU decided in 2004 to give the forest back to Weyerhaeuser. The transaction is still not complete.

A proposal to develop a portion of the forest and leave part of the land as a city park is still being negotiated with the city.

Area residents had been using the forest for walking and other activities until May 2006 when the university officially announced the forest gates would be permanently closed to the public.

Despite the announcement, there continues to be activity in the forest, including teenage parties. According to Bonney Lake police, there have been problems with criminal activity in the forest for years.

When the forest closed in 2006, vandalism and other criminal activity dramatically increased. The A-frame building and a nearby modular structure used as a classroom were vandalized and ransacked beyond repair.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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