By Craig Day and NewsOn6.com
OKMULGEE, OK -- Federal investigators are looking into a suspicious fire that destroyed the initial construction work on a new office building at the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge near Okmulgee.
Officials say construction for the building, which was about 35 percent complete, began in June and was scheduled to be open to the public early next year.
It's not clear yet if it is an arson case, but a reward is being offered for information in connection with the fire.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with the FBI, ATF, local fire department and other law enforcement agencies are cooperating in the investigation.
"It just gives me a sick feeling when I see it like this," Lori Jones, Park Ranger.
In a news release, officials say the $976,000 Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge administration building and Visitor's Center project, funded through the Recovery Act, will give refuge staff an on-facility headquarters, eliminating the need for offices housed 10 miles away in downtown Okmulgee.
"This has had a huge impact on everyone associated with the project. Local contractors who had subcontracted to complete portions of the project are now out of work until such a time that demolition and construction and begin on the building again. Local construction suppliers are also being impacted by the destruction of this building, by being unable to sell product. It simply affected a lot of people in an adverse way," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle.
The Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge is 9,600 acres of natural beauty, a scenic treasure of bottomland hardwood forest.
"One of those areas that time has kind of forgotten and there's not a lot of the hardwood forests left in Oklahoma," said Jones.
Thirty-five thousand people visit each year. It's those visitors the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had in mind when construction started on the new refuge headquarters.
The contractor and a group called Friends of the Deep Fork National Wildlife Refuge are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to convictions if it turns out to be arson.
"It is a shame and we just hate that something like this happens," Jones said.
For now, it's back to square one on the project, with construction delayed and high hopes diminished until things get back on track.
"We'll get it built, one way or the other," Jones said.
If you have any information regarding this incident, you are urged to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Oklahoma Law Enforcement Office at 405-206-1780.