Site of 1996 Olympic event burns down, bomb investigation launched

Police are investigating after a fire destroyed Tennessee’s Ocoee Whitewater Center, which served as the site for paddling events during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

The fire broke out early Tuesday morning, engulfing the building in flames and leaving it at a “complete loss,” according to a Facebook statement from the U.S. Forest Service. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is now investigating the scene with special agents from its bomb and arson department, ABC Channel News 9 reported.

Located in the hills of the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee Whitewater Center was built to host events such as kayaking and canoeing during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Officials said no one was injured in the fire, and investigators have not yet reported any suspicions of foul play.

“We are just so grateful that no one was injured during the fire and thankful to our partners for their assistance in getting the fire under control and investigating the cause,” Mike Wright, Acting Forest Supervisor for the Cherokee National Forest said in a statement. “The Ocoee Whitewater Center was a unique site not just here on the Cherokee National Forest, but across the Forest Service. It is a difficult loss for us.”

The Ocoee Whitewater Center, home to Olympic events in 1996, burned down on Tuesday, prompting a police investigation. Here, an archived photo of the center is seen in June, 1996, in Tennessee.
Bongarts/Getty Images

The blaze had destroyed nearly 90 percent of the structure by the time a full fire response got to the scene early Tuesday, Polk County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Lofty told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“Over half the structure was on fire before we ever got there,” Lofty told the news outlet. “We just didn’t have enough water and enough resources to control it. It was so far along before we knew it was burning, there wasn’t really any hope.”

The Ocoee Whitewater Center was a sought-after destination for tourism in the country, and community members expressed sadness at its loss.

“Heartbroken to hear about the loss of the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Many of us have memories of fun at the center with family and friends,” Tennessee Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to the firefighters who responded immediately. I know the TBI will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the fire.”

Newsweek contacted TBI for additional comment.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.



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