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How A Stranded Man Survived 22 Days In Alaska's Wilderness

Tyson Steele's cabin burned down, leaving him exposed for weeks to freezing temperatures.

A man who spent more than three weeks stranded in Alaska’s freezing wilderness has revealed how he managed to make it out of the ordeal alive.

Tyson Steele, 30, spent 22 days exposed to the elements after his cabin ― located about 20 miles from the isolated village of Skwentna ― burned down. The blaze also killed his beloved dog and left him with no means of communication.

On Thursday, an Alaska State Patrol helicopter located Steele, who was waving his arms near a makeshift shelter and an SOS signal stamped in the snow. The first responders were checking the area after Steele’s family requested a welfare check request, police said in a Facebook post.

Steele had been stranded since either Dec. 17 or Dec. 18, when his homestead burned down after a burning ember from his wood stove went up the chimney and landed on the roof, state police said.

“It’s 1 or 2 in the morning and I’d been awakened to a cold cabin, right? So, it takes me a while to go back to sleep. And, drip, drip, drip ― there’s fiery drips of plastic coming through the roof above me. So, I go outside to pick up some … snow and I just see that the whole roof’s on fire,” Steele told Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers.

Steele said the most difficult aspect of the entire ordeal was losing his 6-year-old chocolate lab, Phil, in the fire.

“And the worst part of all of this ― I can survive 23 days again ― but my dog was in there, asleep by my side,” Steele said.

As he fled the cabin, Steele said he grabbed coats, sleeping bags and a rifle. Once the fire died out, he salvaged what canned food he could find, even though much of it was burnt or partially melted. He then created rations, allowing himself just two cans a day for 30 days.

“Last night’s meal was probably one of the worst. I was leaving the burned-off stuff for the last. And last night’s dinner was a can of plastic-smoked refried beans,” he told police on the day of his rescue while eating a McDonald’s combo meal.

Tyson Steele is greeted by Alaska State Trooper's tactical flight officer Zac Johnson after more than 20 days in the wilderne
Tyson Steele is greeted by Alaska State Trooper's tactical flight officer Zac Johnson after more than 20 days in the wilderness.

Steele said he considered making a trek to his nearest neighbor ― he’d heard there might be someone living five miles away ― but with the deep snow, he was not prepared to attempt the journey until absolutely necessary. 

“So, the first two nights I slept in a snow cave. It was just big enough for my sleeping bags and me and a couple things of food. And that stayed, you know, snow caves are pretty nice for survival. There’s a lot of insulation. It can be negative-40 outside and if you have a candle – which I didn’t – but if you do, it can be above 30 degrees,” he said. “But I just huddled into that dark cave and I slept. I slept for a really long time. And it was, it was warm. Warmer than outside.”

After stamping out a big SOS sign in the snow, highlighted with ashes from the fireplace, Steele built a domed, tent-like shelter from pieces of tarp and scrap lumber around the wood-stove from his former home. He spent much of the next few weeks remaining near the stove to stay warm.

Now that he’s been rescued, Steele plans to spend time with his family in Utah.

“I’m probably going to go back home to Salt Lake City. Not ‘back’ home, because this is my home, but to my family,” he said. “They’ve got a dog... and that would be some therapy.”

Read the full account of Steele’s ordeal here.

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