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Update: Cause of Ocoee Whitewater Center fire still undetermined

"Nobody was present, no injuries involved, we don't know if we will reopen. If we will rebuild at this time...that's all still to be determined."

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — UPDATE TUESDAY: The investigation into the April 26 fire that destroyed the Ocoee Whitewater Center along the Ocoee River in Polk County still hasn't determined a cause, federal authorities said in a release Tuesday.

The investigation into the blaze of the 1996-era Olympics building is ongoing. The fire broke out the morning of April 26.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and U.S. Forest Service investigators are looking into what happened.

According to Tuesday's announcement, the agencies have finished their "on-the-ground examination" of the site.

"Currently, the Cherokee National Forest is focused on securing the site and ensuring public safety," the Tuesday release from the Forest Service states. "These efforts should not impact the status of the river, which is open for commercial and private boaters to enjoy."

The center was built to host 1996 Summer Olympics whitewater slalom events.

The immediate area surrounding the center remains closed, including the Rhododendron Trail No. 332, Bear Paw Loop No. 334, Old Copper Road Trail No. 333 and the connector trail from Chestnut Loop No. 335 to Bear Paw Loop Trail No. 334.

PREVIOUS STORY: An early morning fire destroyed the Ocoee Whitewater Center Tuesday.

The venue served as the host site for paddling events, such as kayaking and canoeing, during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Years later, it remained a popular spot for locals and tourists with the waters of the Ocoee River surging just steps beyond the center's back doors, with sweeping views from the balcony.

The river's flow was modified to create the paddling venues, with grandstands and observation towers added for the Olympics.

Tennessee Department of Transportation crews in the area saw the structure on fire and 12 area fire departments responded to the site.

Crews report the fire has been contained, but an investigation will begin as to the fire's origin.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says that an agent has responded to the scene of the fire to assist in the investigation.

The center was a staple for the community of Polk County. 

"I was cooking last night when it happened and the fire trucks started coming through and stuff," Brad Hyatt, Owner of Bradford's BBQ said.

Credit: US Forest Service
Remains of Whitewater Center after Tuesday fire.

Bradford's BBQ is just minutes down the road from the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Hyatt said it was a place that bonded the community.

It was built for the 1996 Olympic games. The recreational center later hosted many community events, proms, weddings, and even daily picnics.

"I went to a lot of my kids and grandkids activities and events they've held down there," Hyatt said.

He hopes with this devastation, they build it back.

Credit: US Forest Service
Incinerated chairs at the Whitewater Center.

"You know it was just kind of binding...it was just something to be proud of with the Olympics and the whitewater activities and stuff and like I said people still remember it but it's good to have something they can come by and see you know...and so we're hoping they build it back," He said.

Forest officials said the fire broke out around midnight Monday night into the morning of April 26.

The flames engulfed the 7,200-square-foot building filled with memories and worldwide history.

Credit: US Forest Service
The burned out center from the parking lot.

"Nobody was present, no injuries involved, we don't know if we will reopen. If we will rebuild at this time...that's all still to be determined," Mary Miller, PIO for Cherokee National Forest said.

The Ocoee Whitewater Center brought 300,000 visitors a year. It's a massive loss to the area.

"It's been exciting...and it seemed like everybody really liked it...so hopefully, they'll build it back for the community," Hyatt said.

This story was originally reported by Local 3 News in Chattanooga.

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