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Joe Whitty cabin

The Bellvue, Colo., home owned by Joe Whitty of Davenport is built of 12-inch thick logs. It was destroyed by the wildfires in northern Colorado. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

A 10-room getaway log cabin home owned by Quad-City restaurateur and philanthropist Joe Whitty has been destroyed in the wildfires that are sweeping out of control in northern Colorado.

“My heart is broken. It’s like losing a member of the family,” Whitty of Davenport, said Monday.

Only a few items were salvaged from the showplace home Whitty built 20 years ago north of Denver. He said he has been steadily adding to the place ever since. It can sleep 20 people.

Whitty’s nephew, Pat Whitty, was living at the house when the wildfires bore down on it over the weekend.

“About 5 a.m. Sunday, someone from the sheriff’s office pounded on the door and told me to get out in 30 minutes,” Pat Whitty said Monday by cellphone. “I grabbed a couple of Joe’s antique guns and not much else.”

Monday afternoon, Whitty said he stood on a ridge about three miles from his uncle’s remote home.

“I had binoculars, a clear view, and all I could see of Uncle Joe’s place was a chimney and propane tank,” he said.

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A representative of the Larimer County sheriff’s office, busy handling the fire that is said to be the second- worst in Colorado history, said searchers assessing damage had not reached the area where Whitty’s home was located.

Whitty, best known as “Happy Joe” for his chain of pizza and ice cream places throughout the Midwest, said he was stunned by the loss.

“All I ever wanted since running a little root beer stand was to own a log cabin. Now it’s gone,” he said.

On multiple occasions, he has offered Quad-City charities the opportunity to auction free use of his cabin for a week. The most recent was at a May 7 auction to benefit Junior Achievement of the Heartland after a golf tourney at Davenport Country Club. Jim Victor, sponsor of the tournament, said “I can’t believe it” after hearing of the destruction of the Whitty place.

Whitty’s cabin, built of 12-inch-thick logs, overlooked wide areas of the Bellvue, Colo., countryside, about 95 miles from Denver.

“Everyone who stayed at the place had their own cowboy hat. All those hats burned,” Whitty said. “My place was like a museum.”

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