Hi JohnnyNumber6. To answer your question: not long. The few bits of dry firewood they manage to gather would be burned out in half an hour.
If I recall correctly, WAB said that it was around minus 18 degree Celsius that night at the level of the tent, and a few degrees colder down by the cedar, but out of the wind. WAB also mentioned that the area by the cedar lacked dry firewood, and the photos of the area that he provided certainly prove that. The first rescuers commented that the fire under the cedar tree had been just a small one.
My guess is that one of the reasons they started a fire there, as opposed to down in the ‘snow den’, is that under a big tree the snow is thinner. They would have known that it is pointless to start a fire in deep snow, as it soon sinks in the snow and goes out.
So, let’s say it was minus 20 Celsius by the cedar tree, it’s dark, they don’t have any tool to cut wood, they don’t have gloves or boots, and there is hardly any dry wood anyway, so the fire wouldn’t last long. Under such conditions, after two or three hours they would become exhausted and hypothermic, unable to use their hands anymore because they’re frozen.
These experienced hikers would have known that the priority, perhaps more important than the fire, was to make a shelter. WAB has repeatedly said that the snow conditions in that area do not allow for digging a snow hut. However, these hikers probably knew how to make an emergency shelter by laying poles against the cedar to form some kind of small ‘teepee’, cover them with spruce branches and then snow, and then huddled the nine of them in there. They may have survived the night from their group body heat in such a small enclosure.
They seem to have left the tent together, but something scattered them at the cedar tree and elsewhere, perhaps the same thing that made them leave the tent. The so-called ‘snow den’ down in the ravine was probably more about hiding than a shelter.
I find it hard to believe that the two Yuris burned themselves in their fire. Not likely.