Man sur­vives three frigid weeks af­ter cabin burns down

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER - By Aimee Or­tiz Aimee Or­tiz is a New York Times writer.

As a he­li­copter cir­cles over­head, a large “SOS” stamped into the snow comes into view. Next to it is a lone fig­ure, walk­ing among piles of snow, wav­ing his arms.

Tyson Steele had not had proper shel­ter in weeks. In fact, it had been more than 20 days since an in­ferno ig­nited in his re­mote Alaskan cabin, driv­ing him into the subzero tem­per­a­tures and snow, killing his dog and leav­ing Steele to fend for him­self.

A 30­year­old homesteade­r orig­i­nally from Utah, Steele was res­cued by a he­li­copter team Thurs­day, the Alaska State Troop­ers said in a re­port. The au­thor­i­ties posted video of the res­cue on Face­book.

Af­ter his fam­ily and friends had not heard from Steele in weeks, they asked for a wel­fare check.

“The re­quest is what alerted us to go look for him,” said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska State Troop­ers. “The SOS might even­tu­ally have drawn a pass­ing pi­lot to in­ves­ti­gate, but hard to say when — it had al­ready been more than three weeks.”

Steele, who had been liv­ing alone in Alaska since Septem­ber, said he had pur­chased the prop­erty about 20 miles from Sk­wentna from a Viet­nam War vet­eran. Sk­wentna is about 70 miles north­west of An­chor­age.

A “hasty mis­take” was what be­gan Steele’s sur­vival story: He put a big piece of card­board in his wood stove to start a fire, which ended up send­ing a spark to the roof and ig­nit­ing the cabin.

Steele said he grabbed ev­ery­thing that was on his bed, some coats, some sleep­ing bags, and rushed out­side. He called for his dog, Phil, but the dog was con­sumed by the blaze.

He worked un­til morn­ing try­ing to put out the fire.

When day­light fi­nally came, he made an in­ven­tory of what he could sal­vage from the re­mains.

He said he cal­cu­lated “two cans a day for 30 days on ra­tions,” not­ing that some of the cans had popped open in the fire and jars of peanut but­ter had melted plas­tic, “so, it tastes like my home, just burn­ing.”

He slept in a snow cave for two nights be­fore cre­at­ing a tent­like shel­ter out of tarps and scrap lum­ber around his wooden stove. He said it was not ex­actly warm, but “just took the edge off.”

Af­ter stamp­ing out an SOS in the snow, Steele added ashes to make it black — some­thing he said he kept do­ing of­ten “be­cause it would snow and I would have to redo it.”

Marsh, the Alaska State Troop­ers spokesman, called Steele’s sur­vival “stun­ning.”

“He re­ally had to think fast in a few sec­onds,” he said.

Alaska State Troop­ers

Video re­leased by Alaska State Troop­ers shows Tyson Steele and his “SOS” dis­tress signal in the Susitna Val­ley on Jan 9.

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