One week after a two-alarm blaze destroyed locker rooms and offices at the Mission Viejo Aquatic Center, the world-class Nadadores swim team was back in the water.
The fire, which officials believe was intentionally set and caused an estimated $230,000 damage, closed the main 50-meter-long pool for almost a week because of electrical damage. Most of the swim team's 600 members have been training at the Sierra Recreation Center in Mission Viejo. The 60-member diving team, however, was displaced from the diving pool for only a day.
"It could have been a lot worse," Nadadores' Coach Bill Rose said. "Nobody got killed or hurt. But it's going to be a year before we get back into this building."
The fire spared Rose's office, but an office for five assistant coaches was heavily damaged. Many coaches lost personal items such as surfboards, family pictures and cameras.
The city has set up portable restrooms, and an office trailer is expected to arrive today.
Nadadores' foundation president Catherine Page said the team has received an outpouring of support from the city, local businesses and rival swim programs.
"It's been pretty devastating, but things like this bring out the best in people," Page said.
Fortunately, the fire struck during a lull between events at the aquatic center, Page said.
The Nadadores, whose swimmers have won 12 Olympic gold medals, hosted their biggest meet of the year, the Swim Meet of Champions, two weeks ago. The team will not host another major meet until Thanksgiving, the Turkey Classic.
On Saturday, the Nadadores will host a 12-and-under meet for 300 swimmers.
"We can do it," said Melinda Kennedy, an office worker. "These meets are real important to these kids. The show must go on."
The investigation into the early-morning July 4 fire is continuing, Orange County Fire Authority Battalion Chief Scott Brown said Wednesday.
"Investigators are in contact with area witnesses who may have observed somebody in the area at the time of the fire," he said.
The aquatic center has suffered minor vandalism before but nothing as serious as a fire.
"It's a completely senseless act," Page said. "It's directed at a group that is a big part of the community and does a lot of good for the community."
Page said the team plans to hold a series of fund-raisers to help rebuild the locker rooms and offices and pay for office furniture and snack bar equipment.