Tyson Steele says he was stuck in the freezing Alaska wilderness for more than three weeks after making one huge mistake: He put a piece of cardboard in his old wood-burning stove and a spark ignited the roof of a cabin he describes in an Alaska Department of Public Safety report as a "plastic Quonset hut." The 30-year-old homesteader says he woke up in the middle of the night on Dec. 17 or 18 to find the cabin on fire. He grabbed some coats and blankets and fled outside before it became an inferno, and was heartbroken to find out that his 6-year-old chocolate lab hadn't left when he yelled at him to get out. Steele spent the next two nights in a snow cave and then built a makeshift shelter over the ruins of his cabin, where he spent 22 or 23 days in subzero temperatures and deep snow before he was rescued by an aircrew with Alaska State Troopers on Thursday, NBC reports.
The only way in or out of the remote corner of the Susitna Valley was by plane, authorities say. Steele's nearest neighbor was more than 20 miles away. Steele, who had been living in the cabin since September, had no snowmobile or working phone. He says he managed to scavenge enough cans of food from the wreckage to survive—but much of it tasted like burnt plastic. He made a large "SOS" sign, though Alaska State Troopers spokesman Ken Marsh tells the New York Times that he was only found after friends and family requested a welfare check. "The SOS might eventually have drawn a passing pilot to investigate, but hard to say when—it had already been more than three weeks," says Marsh, who describes Steele's survival as "stunning." Troopers posted video of the rescue on Facebook. (Read more Alaska stories.)