, in which he told the story of his survival and rescue.
‘Felt like I tore my lung out’
He bought the cabin – made from tarpaulins and planks – from a Vietnam war veteran. The hut was in the remote Susitna Valley, north-west of Anchorage, about 56 miles from the town of Skwentna.
Mr Steele is not sure exactly what night the fire started, as he has been living alone in the cabin since September. But he believes it was 20 or December when he put a big piece of cardboard in his wood fire stove.
“It started with a pretty hasty mistake,” he said. “I’ve had woodstoves all my life. I knew that you don’t do that. So, it sent a spark out through the chimney which landed on the roof.”
Mr Steele woke up to “fiery drips of plastic” falling from his roof early in the morning. He ran outside wearing only boots, long johns and a jumper to see that the cabin was fully ablaze.
He ran back in to grab blankets and his rifle as smoke filled the room. But he was unable to save his chocolate labrador, Phil. He thought the dog had escaped but only realized he was trapped inside when he heard howling from the burning cabin.
“I was hysterical,” he told police. “I have no words for what sorrow; it was just, just a scream … Felt like I tore my lung out.”
‘I’m not exactly trained’
The fire ignited hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a propane tank in the cabin – stored near the food supply. “It was like a war zone,” Mr Steele said.
He shovelled snow on the blaze for hours, but could not save the shelter.
He gathered what cans of food had survived – many had popped open in the heat, and he said all the food ended up tasting like burning plastic – and spent the first two nights in a snow cave. He then fashioned a basic tent from scraps of tarpaulin, built in a dome around the woodstove.
“It is by no means a cozy cabin that I was able to put together,” he said. “It just took the edge off.”