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Man in Fort Smith ‘heavy machinery’ confrontation denies wrongdoing

A photo of the Wood Buffalo Complex posted on Wood Buffalo National Park's Facebook on August 21, 2023.

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Police have arrested a man in Fort Smith who allegedly used heavy machinery to try to stop wildfire defences being prepared.

The man, a 67-year-old whom police did not name, had already “made threatening remarks” to firefighters on Wednesday last week, RCMP said.

He then “intentionally collided a piece of heavy machinery with another piece of heavy machinery which was being used to prepare wildfire defences.”

A person calling Cabin Radio and identifying themselves as the man in question, who declined to provide their name for this article, denied wrongdoing and said the incident was a family dispute that got out of hand.

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“I was protecting my own property,” he said, alleging that he and his brother, locked in a protracted land dispute, had ended up in an altercation whereby each brother was operating a piece of heavy equipment against the other.

The man said he thought nothing more of the matter until – in his recollection of what took place – police used either a smoke bomb or tear gas to burst into his house in the middle of the night, detaining him as he sat in his bathroom in his underwear. He alleges his home was damaged in the course of the arrest.

“There’s going to be a lot of lawsuits,” he said, asserting that none of the police account in a press release earlier on Monday was “proven, accurate or true.”

‘We don’t get along’

Fort Smith has been under an evacuation order for two weeks, though not all residents have left. Crews have spent weeks preparing defences to repel an oncoming wildfire that has stalled barely three kilometres outside the town, but could push closer if conditions deteriorate.

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RCMP said officers responding to “multiple complaints” about the man were initially unable to fly into the town because of smoke from nearby wildfires, but police said they arrived in Fort Smith on Friday and made an arrest.

No injuries were reported as a result of the incident, police said.

The man told Cabin Radio his brother, a contractor, had used an excavator to knock trees onto possessions on the man’s land, in the apparent course of contract work he was carrying out. (Police have suggested they believe the land in question to be public, which the man said was not the case. The brother, whose identity is not known, could not be contacted.)

The altercation took place, the man said, when he acquired his own heavy equipment to clean up.

“I went there with a loader and I was removing all the trees around my possessions, because if a spark comes in, they’re going to burn,” the man said, explaining his actions from his perspective.

“I was pushing the trees away to an open area – it’s a large piece of property – and [the brother and his son] each had a loader and were pushing them back to me. He was just being an asshole, because we don’t get along.”

An investigation is ongoing. Police said the evidence so far supports “multiple criminal charges” including assault with a weapon and mischief endangering life.

The man told Cabin Radio he would plead not guilty to any such charges.

“The man was released on conditions he not attend the community of Fort Smith until the territorial evacuation order is lifted. A territorial court appearance is pending,” RCMP stated.