COPPERHILL, Tenn. (AP) — A fire early Tuesday destroyed Tennessee’s Ocoee Whitewater Center, which served as the host site for paddling events during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, officials said.
Polk County Emergency Management Agency Director Steve Lofty told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the blaze had engulfed about 90% of the structure by the time a full fire response got to the scene on the Ocoee River.
“It’s a huge loss to the community here,” Lofty said.
Firefighters were already in the area working on extinguishing a separate tractor-trailer fire when the another driver reported seeing flames at the Whitewater Center, he said.
“Initial crews that were down there responded to the Whitewater Center and then we requested mutual aid from about 12 other departments,” Lofty said.
“Over half the structure was on fire before we ever got there,” he said. “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.”
Located in the remote 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.
Polk County County Executive Robby M. Hatcher said Tuesday it’s a blow to the entire community.
“The Whitewater Center was a sought-after destination for tourism in our county, and this’ll be a big loss,” Hatcher said.