A 30-year-old man in Alaska survived more than 20 days in subzero temperatures after his cabin in a remote area of the Susitna Valley burned down.
Tyson Steele was rescued by an aircrew with Alaska State Troopers on Thursday. A video authorities posted on their Facebook page showed Steele frantically waving his arms while standing next to a giant “SOS” sign etched into the snow.
Steels told authorities that he had been stuck out in the snowy wilderness since mid-December when his cabin burned down after he mistakenly put a piece of cardboard into his wood stove to help light it.
"I knew it was a problem, I've had wood stoves all my life. I knew that you don't do that,” he said. “So, it sent a spark out through the chimney which landed on the roof."
Soon, the entire roof was on fire. Steele said he quickly grabbed what he could — some blankets from his bed, a few coats, and some sleeping bags — and fled.
"I stepped outside and everything's on fire," he said.
He told troopers that he had hoped his 6-year-old chocolate Labrador Phil had followed him outside, but the dog did not.
When he realized that his beloved pet was stuck inside the fiery cabin with no way out, Steele said he became hysterical.
“I have no words for what sorrow; it was just, just a scream. Just a visceral — not angry, not sad — just … all I could express, just scream,” he said. “Felt like I tore my lung out."
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With his cabin engulfed in flames and his dog gone, Steele said he had to figure out what to do next. Alaska State Troopers said the area Steele lives in is remote with his nearest neighbor being 20 miles away.
Authorities said the only way in and out of the wilderness is by air charter. Steele told troopers that the phone he had didn't work.
Steele said he tried to put out the flames by throwing snow on it, but it was unsuccessful.
“I'm hysterical trying to put it out and it's not doing anything. And I worked up into the morning, into the daylight trying to put out various sections of the fire,” he recalled.
As the fire burned, Steele was able to scavenge some canned food and jars of peanut butter from a pantry that had not yet been destroyed by the fire. He said he had enough cans to last him 30 days if he only ate two cans a day.
“The thing was, maybe half of those cans, they’ve heated up and popped open and the smoke’s circulating inside,” he said. “So, it tastes like my home, just burning.”
The first two nights after his cabin was destroyed, Steele said he slept inside a snow cave he built. Once the flames went out, he used tarps and lumber he found to build a tent-like structure over what remained of his cabin.
Steele said he spent a lot of time sleeping and tried not to go outside, where at one point the snow had reached five feet. As the days ticked by, he said he began wondering when his family and friends would get worried and send help.
That help wouldn’t arrive until Thursday when Alaska police received a call from one of Steele’s friends asking for a welfare check on him. The friend told police that it had been weeks since they had spoken to Steele.
Now that he’s been rescued, Steele said he plans to go to Salt Lake City where his family lives.
"They've got a dog. And that would be some therapy," he said.