Tyson Steele immediately knew something was wrong. The 30-year-old had been living in the Alaskan wilderness for some time and had become rather adept at building fires in his fireplace. However, the second he threw a piece of cardboard on the flames, he knew he made a mistake — a mistake that would cost him his home and nearly his life.
“I knew it was a problem, I've had wood stoves all my life. I knew that you don't do that,” he told NBC News. “So, it sent a spark out through the chimney, which landed on the roof."
Quickly, Steele’s cabin, located some 20 miles outside the small town of Skwentna, was up in flames. He grabbed what he could, including a few blankets, a sleeping bag, and cans of food, and ran out the door. By the time he looked back, the entire place was engulfed.
Steele hoped his beloved dog, Phil, had followed him out, but he soon realized the pup was nowhere in sight.
“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,” Steele added. “[I] felt like I tore my lung out."
However, Steele quickly realized he needed to turn away from his grief and figure out a way to survive.
As the flames started to dissipate around his home, Steele told reporters he gathered as many supplies as he could, including canned goods and jars of peanut butter that hadn’t burned.
He then covered sections of what was left of his home with tarps to make a makeshift survival hut.
"It is by no means a cozy cabin that I was able to put together," he told reporters. "It just took the edge off."
From there, he hunkered down and waited. Finally, a full three weeks into his misadventure, a rescue helicopter flew overhead and spotted his SOS sign.
Incredible rescue story out of Skwentna, Alaska. Tyson Steele was stranded for 20+ days in extreme subzero temperatures after his cabin burned down. He survived on partially charred canned goods. (Video courtesy: Alaska State Troopers) pic.twitter.com/vxrvrktdJG— Heather Hintze (@HeatherHintze) January 11, 2020
As for what’s next, Steele told his rescuers that he’ll likely head to Utah to spend time with his family and their family dog. He added, “That would be some therapy."