The Louis Robidoux Nature Center in Jurupa Valley introduced thousands of children every year to animals and to the Santa Ana River habitat before temporarily closing in 2017, and it was set to reopen and expand soon thanks to a new partnership.

That progress reversed Thursday, Oct. 31, when the fast-moving 46 fire destroyed the center and scorched much of the land around it. Thursday afternoon, the fire was 300 acres and had destroyed three homes as well as damaging or destroying other structures in Jurupa Valley and Riverside.

No animals were in the shelter at the time, said Kyla Brown, assistant director for Riverside County Parks department.

“It had been empty for a couple of years now while we looked for a new operator,” Brown said. “They were starting to move in.”

The center included hiking trails, a small library and a museum that had live animals such as great horned owl, an opossum, snakes, tarantulas, toads and fish and snails. It also hosted events to celebrate turtles and butterflies.

“When I heard it had burned my heart broke because I thought of the children,” said Sherri Chandler, who worked there for 18 years before retiring as the park director and interpreter when it closed in 2017. “To me, that belonged to them. It was a place for them to come and experience nature that’s not as long of a drive.”

A partnership between five Inland agencies had aimed to revitalize the site.

The involved groups would rehabilitate the land, renovate the center and offer a place for educational field trips and other community activities.

Plans regarding possible reconstruction hadn’t been made on Thursday. Brown said there was no way to salvage what remained on the site.

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