A man who was left stranded in the snowy Alaskan wilderness some 20 miles from civilisation after the roof of his cabin caught fire has been rescued by state troopers after 23 days of total isolation.
Tyson Steele was left to survive on salvaged cans of food while attempting to fend off sub-zero temperatures after the plastic roof of his cabin set alight.
The 30-year-old had placed a piece of cardboard in his stove to quickly start up the heating on the cold December morning – but the material had sent sparks up the chimney causing his home to ignite.
Feeling the plastic of his ceiling drip down, he scrambled out of bed and stepped outside in pyjamas, a woollen jumper and boots without socks – clothes he would spend the next month wearing with along with overalls stiff with mildew that he was able to later pull from his shed.
In the panic of those initial moments he was able to also rescue tins of food and a rifle – but was unable to save his dog, a chocolate Labrador called Phil.
He told State Troopers, who published his comments shortly after he was rescued: “I stepped outside and everything’s on fire. I’ve got to think of what to do next. I go grab my rifle around the other side of the cabin – .338. And, and, and my dog starts howling, right? Inside.
“And I thought he was not inside. And that’s when there was … I was hysterical. Right? I had no logic. Nothing. … I have no words for what sorrow; it was just, just a scream. Just a visceral – not angry, not sad, just, like, that’s all I could express – just scream. Felt like I tore my lung out.”
Once the fire was out and his cabin was completely destroyed, he was able to consolidate cans of food into 30 days of rations – many of which had popped open in the fire and become contaminated by the burnt plastic of his cabin.
However he was left without a phone having left it behind. To compound his crisis, his device had been so unreliable he had been unable to make regular phone calls to his family before the blaze, meaning it would be a number of days before anyone would notice something was wrong.
On top of that, the heavy snowfall and poor equipment left to the 30-year-old meant he could only travel short distances – with Mr Steele saying it took him “days to go just a quarter mile” from the cabin, while the nearest town was the 37-population Skwentna some 20 miles away.
He added: “I didn’t have a map and I knew I didn’t have enough knowledge of the whereabouts. I could have said oh, that direction. But I have no idea what waterways stay frozen enough for me to walk through – I could fall through the ice.”
Building a snow fort and eventually a makeshift shelter, he was able to hold out until a police helicopter was sent to his homestead – finding him on 9 December waving his arms next to a sign marked in the snow with ashes to read SOS.
Greeted with a “McDonald’s Combo Meal No. 2.” at the Alaska State Troopers’ Aircraft Section Hangar at Lake Hood, he said he would stay with his family in Utah before returning to Alaska.
He added: “I’m probably going to go back home to Salt Lake City. Not ‘back’ home, because this is my home, but to my family. They’ve got a dog, and that would be some therapy.“