(CNN) – A man from Utah was rescued in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, approximately three weeks after a fire swept through his home, killed his dog and left him almost without food, clothing or shelter.
Tyson Steele, 30, was found in the rubble of his remote farm in the Susitna Valley on Thursday morning, according to a press release from the Alaska State Troopers, after friends asked authorities to carry out a check of well-being after not having news of the.
In aerial images shared by the authorities, Tyson leaves from the wreckage of his home, saluting the officers in the helicopter while an “SOS” message is seen in the snow behind him.
“Everything he owned was in that cabin,” Steele told the soldiers, who shared the man’s survival story in the statement.
In the weeks after the fire, Steele said, he survived with remnants of canned rations and peanut butter, sleeping in a snow cave and an improvised shelter he built around his wood-burning stove.
The fire took almost everything, including his dog
Steele had been living on his farm, about 32 kilometers from Skwentna, since September, he told state police. He described his home as a Quonset cabin – a lightweight frame, covered with plastic tarps – that he bought from a Vietnam veteran.
He acknowledged to the agents that the fire was the result of an error. In a hurry to light the fire, he put a large piece of cardboard on his wood stove. He believes that a piece of burning cardboard jumped out of the chimney and landed on the roof.
Steele woke up in the middle of the night, either on December 17 or 18, he couldn’t remember the exact date, the agents said, and heard noise like melting plastic coming from the roof. After Steele left, he said: “I only saw that the entire roof was on fire.”
The cabin, Steele told the agents, “caught fire faster than I could even imagine.”
He began to grab everything he could, including the blankets and a rifle, but his real priority was his 6-year-old dog, Phil.
He ordered Phil to leave, and when he jumped out of bed, Steele assumed that the animal had left the house.
But when Steele left, he heard Phil howl inside. “And I thought it wasn’t inside,” he said.
“I was hysterical… I have no words for such grief; It was just, just a scream, ”Steele told the agents. “Just visceral, not angry, not sad, that’s all I could express, just a scream.”
SOS in the snow
Steele didn’t have much time to cry, since he needed a survival plan, he said.
I didn’t know enough about the surrounding area, including which of the many waterways in the area would freeze enough to cross, Steele said.
He gathered the food that survived the fire: canned goods, some beans and peanut butter, and thought he had enough food to have two cans a day for a month. But much of the food opened to the heat of the fire, he said, and mixed with the smoke from his burning hut.
“I had the taste of my house, burning.”
Steele had a “poor quality” phone he had been using to communicate with friends and family, but authorities said he was lost in the fire. So I expected someone to request a welfare check after not hearing from him. If someone had not come by day 35, they would have left.
Meanwhile, Steele slept in a snow cave before building a better shelter, using tarps and wooden debris. He made the SOS signal in the snow, tracing it with the ash of the fire to make it stand out, he said.
It was so cold, he said, that his urine was freezing in a bucket by the fire after a few minutes.
Finally, about 20 days after the fire, Steele saw the helicopter above him.
Cliff Gilliland and tactical flight officer Zac Johnson rescued him, the agency said. They gave him a shower and brought him McDonald’s food.
Now, Steele plans to return to Salt Lake City, where his family lives, he told the soldiers.
“They have a dog,” he said.
CNN’s Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.