Alaskan survives weeks of frigid temperatures after cabin fire

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - One young homesteader spent weeks alone in the Alaska wilderness before he was rescued by state troopers by helicopter on January 9th. For most of December, Tyson Steele survived in a makeshift shelter, holding out hope that help was on the way.

30-year-old Steele had been living alone in a remote cabin about 20 miles away from the community of Skwentna when he woke up to find the roof of his cabin on fire. The temperature outside that day was about 15 degrees below zero. He thinks it was December 17th or 18th when the cabin went up in flames. He subsequently endured more than 20 days alone, with no equipment in harsh, subzero temperatures.

A series of split second decisions meant life or death for Steele as he had to decide what supplies to save and what to let burn. His beloved 6-year-old chocolate lab, Phil, did not make it out. Steele says he quickly shoved his dog from the bed, yelling "Go. Get out, now!" He grabbed what he knew they would need to survive the night without a proper shelter. That would be all that he had time to gather. By the time he got outside, he realized his dog hadn't followed him.

After spending weeks reflecting on that night, Steele calmly points out his biggest mistakes. The first, he says, was starting a fire with cardboard in his old wood burning stove. Next, he had stored all of his food, ammunition, clothes, and communication devices in one area- which was now covered in flames. Once he made it outside and saw the extent of the fire he knew that most of it would be a total loss.

"Honestly, I was grateful that all my bullets blew up because that could have been a temptation to be like 'I'm not going make it,' and put my self out, right? That's a very really thought that crept up almost daily, especially in real cold nights," Steele said.

There were times when the loss of his dog, several guns and all of his ammo reminded Steele just how isolated and exposed he was. He says on what must've been day 20 without a cabin, a large moose walked into his camp, coming within yards.

"It's like he knew ... that I had no bullets, that there was nothing I could do to him," he said.

He had managed to salvage some canned goods after the fire died, quickly determining that he could ration himself to one can a day, for 30 days. After that, Steele says he would've resorted to fishing and trapping equipment that made it through the fire. Flames had burned the labels off of every can of food. Several times, he would open his only meal of the day to find that smoke had penetrated the can, or that it was something he despised.

"A few times it was pineapples. I'm allergic to them," he told KTUU, "but I ate them because that's all I had."

On what Steele thinks was day 23, AST Helo Team 3 flew overhead for a welfare check. His family and friends had made calls, concerned after their communications had suddenly ceased. Steele had stamped out a large S.O.S. into the snow, filling his boot prints with ashed from his burned cabin to make sure it was legible from the sky.

"A big concern was that the stove pipe that was saving me would also make whatever plane ... whoever flew over, think that I was fine," he said. "They might just say wow, look at that shack!"

Steele had centered a makeshift "ice cave" around the same stove that burned down his cabin. He credits the structure for his survival, but plans to return and rebuild a proper structure on his homestead in the future.

"Next time, I'll build two cabins," he said through laughter, "just in case one burns down."

Steele is from Utah but has been a part-time resident of Alaska for the past six years, working at fishing lodge on Admiralty Island. He says he wouldn't consider himself a professional outdoorsman, but his upbringing and his hobbies gave him the experience he needed to persevere, and survive.

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