THURS: Wind and drought combine to make western US fires unstoppable, State and partners open more daily meal sites, + More
Wind, drought combine to make western US fires unstoppable - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
The flames of a northern New Mexico wildfire have become unstoppable as the largest blaze in the U.S. burns trees sucked dry of moisture over decades of drought amid a forecast Thursday of more winds expected to fan the blaze, according to wildfire fighting managers.
Meanwhile, winds in Southern California sent embers flying in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel on Wednesday. More than 20 homes were destroyed, many of them multimillion-dollar mansions. No injuries were reported.
The California fire was much smaller than the New Mexico blaze that has burned at least 170 homes, but Brian Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, said drought and climate change have combined to make fires that were once easy to contain extremely dangerous for people and property
From New Mexico to Colorado and parts of the Midwest, forecasters on Thursday issued red flag warnings of extreme wildfire danger because of low humidity levels, erratic winds and warm temperatures. The same combination of weather conditions have contributed over the last month to much worse than normal spring wildfires in the U.S.
In New Mexico, the fastest-moving flames in the southern foothills of the Rocky Mountains were headed northeast and away from the area's biggest population center of Taos, a popular tourist destination 40 miles south of the state line with Colorado.
The winds have made it difficult for aircraft to fly to help firefighters on the ground, but some planes managed to drop retardant on the blaze Wednesday despite winds gusting in some areas above 45 mph.
Some evacuation orders were relaxed along the southern flank of the fire near the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Additional crews were on order to join the more than 1,800 personnel fighting the New Mexico fire, and forecasters said weather conditions should improve on Friday.
The fire already has burned through a forested landscape held sacred by its rural residents, many losing homes that have been in their families for generations. Some evacuated residents who were allowed to return home Tuesday and Wednesday found only charred rubble. Others were more fortunate as the flames skirted their homes.
Officials have predicted that the number of homes burned by the fire will rise dramatically when it's safe for officials to do assessments of areas that are still smoldering.
Crews also were battling a smaller New Mexico fire near Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key government facility for nuclear research that has been tapped to ramp up production of plutonium components for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Most employees started working remotely this week as the lab and people living in the town of Los Alamos prepared for possible evacuations.
Agriculture department offers help to those who lost livestock, pasture, trees or bees in NM wildfires – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
The United States Agriculture Department recently released a list of resources to farmers, growers and ranchers affected by the New Mexico wildfires.
About 3,800 adults who live within the Santa Fe National Forest boundaries are employed on farms, according to the socioeconomic assessment published by the federal Forest Service in 2018.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of northern New Mexicans have fled their homes due to the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire, which has burned more than 259,000 acres as of Thursday morning and destroyed at least 166 structures. It’s the second-biggest fire in New Mexico history.
The total amount of damage to livestock or agriculture has not yet been released, but the federal Agriculture Department is making sure individual producers are aware of the assistance programs available to them.
- Livestock Indemnity Program:
Producers who lost livestock due to the wildfires can apply. To qualify, they’ll have to provide documentation of death losses resulting from the wildfires or other adverse weather event, and submit a notice of loss to their local farm service agency. (A list of those is here).
The producer must file the notice within 30 calendar days of when the livestock loss is apparent.
- Emergency Livestock Assistance Program:
Producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish can receive emergency help after losses due to adverse weather events including those from wildfires on non-federal grazing lands.
To qualify, a producer must file a notice to a farm service agency within 30 days and file for honeybee losses within 15 days. More information can be found here, including a tool to help estimate losses.
- Livestock Forage Disaster Program and Tree Assistance Program:
Ranchers who lost grazing area on federally managed lands due to wildfires can receive benefits through this program. A local farm service agency maintains a list of counties eligible.
Additionally, those who run orchards or nurseries can get federal help covering some costs through the Tree Assistance Program for trees, bushes or vines lost during wildfires.
To receive the TAP money, a program application must be filed within 90 days. More information on that can be found here.
State and partners open more daily meal sites for fire evacuees - By Nash Jones, KUNM News
The tens of thousands of wildfire evacuees will now have more opportunities to get a hot meal twice a day as the state partners with new local and national partners to establish six additional sites across northern New Mexico.
The governor’s office announced today that lunch will be available from 11:30 to 1:00 and dinner from 4:30 to 6:00 every day, “no questions asked.”
The new sites are in Taos and Colfax counties, including Taos, Eagle Nest, Raton and Red River. They build upon existing sites in Mora, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties supported by the Food Depot and World Central Kitchen, which the governor’s office says have already provided thousands of meals for evacuees and first responders.
LOCATIONS OF NEW HOT MEAL SITES:
- Taos County Economic Development Corporation (TCEDC) – 1021 Salazar Rd., Taos, NM 87571 (lunch only)
- Juan I. Gonzales Agricultural Center – 202 Chamisa Rd., Taos, NM 87571
- Eagle Nest Senior Center – 74 N. Tomboy Drive, Eagle Nest, NM 87118
- Raton Community Center – 901 S. 3rd Street, Raton, NM 87740
- Red River Convention Center – 101 W. River Street, Red River 87558
The meals are free. The state says it is coordinating with county leaders, along with the disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization, Mercy Chefs, to provide them.
New Mexico wildfire grows, Taos safe for now - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
The largest wildfire in the U.S. was spreading toward mountain resort towns in northern New Mexico, prompting officials to issue another set of warnings for more people to evacuate.
Meanwhile, a wildfire that erupted Wednesday afternoon in coastal Southern California raced through coastal bluffs of multimillion-dollar mansions, burning at least 20 homes, fire officials said. The flames were fanned by gusty ocean winds but they were dying down Wednesday night. No injuries were reported but several streets were ordered evacuated.
The fire, which occurred in Laguna Niguel, was relatively small at about 200 acres but the wind drove embers into palm trees, attics and dense, dry brush on slopes and steep canyons that hadn't burned for decades, Brian Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, said at an evening news conference.
Fennessy said climate change has made even small fires that once would have been easily contained into extreme threats to life and property throughout the West.
As night fell, fire officials in New Mexico said the fastest-moving flames along the eastern front of the Sangre de Cristo range on the southern end of the Rockies were headed farther northeast — away from the area's biggest population center in Taos, a well-known tourist enclave 40 miles south of the Colorado line.
"Currently no issues in the Taos area," fire operations chief Todd Abel said. "The fire is kind of wanting to move to the north and east a little bit. But we're still going to pay close attention."
Some aircraft were able to fly to drop retardant on the blaze despite winds gusting in some areas in excess of 45 mph . And some evacuation orders were relaxed along the southern flank of the fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico — more than 50 miles south of the flames on the northern perimeter.
Additional crews were on order to join the more than 1,800 personnel fighting the fire, and forecasters said conditions should be more favorable by the weekend if crews can hold their ground through another red-flag warning stretch into Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, the most active part of the wind-fueled fire northeast of Mora was tossing hot embers farther into unburned territory giving the fire an even bigger foothold on the tinder-dry landscape.
"Another hot, dry, windy day. No surprises there," fire incident meteorologist Makoto Moore said at Wednesday night's briefing in Las Vegas.
After growing more than 50 square miles the day before, the fire had charred more than 370 square miles by Wednesday morning. Evacuations were ordered for villages south of the resort town of Angel Fire east of Taos, where residents were told to also be packed and ready to go.
The towering plume of smoke created by the raging wildfire could be seen hundreds of miles away Wednesday afternoon, but it was more unnerving for residents of Taos.
"I think everyone is a little on edge," Karina Armijo, a town spokeswoman, said Wednesday, adding that she's been busy fielding calls from people who are wondering whether it's still safe to visit. "It's hard to say what's going to happen a week from now versus three weeks from now — or even tomorrow."
In winter, the challenging ski slopes just north of town draw people from around the world. Just last month, the Taos ski valley hosted the World Pro Ski Tour's championship races. Art galleries, adobe churches and a rich history of Hispanic and Native American culture are the attractions in warmer months along with the aspen-covered biking and hiking trails that traverse the region.
The fire already has burned through a forested landscape held sacred by its rural residents, many losing homes that have been in their families for generations. Some residents allowed to return Tuesday and Wednesday found only charred rubble. Others were more fortunate as the flames skirted their homes.
Firefighters were working to protect buildings around the towns of Mora and Holman and in smaller villages to the north, while authorities closed many roads in the area due to firefighting activity, smoke and fire danger.
"This is tough firefighting business right here," fire Incident Commander Dave Bales said in a briefing. "This is not easy, especially in the fuel types we're in, in the Ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, even down into the grass. When we can't fly aircraft, when we can't get people on the direct edge of the fire, when it's spotting over us, that's a huge concern for us."
A federal disaster already has been declared because of the blaze, which is partly the result of a preventative fire that escaped containment on April 6 after it was set to clear brush and small trees so they could not serve as wildfire fuel. That fire merged with another wildfire several weeks later.
Crews also were battling a smaller fire near Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key government facility for nuclear research that has been tapped to ramp up production of plutonium components for the nation's nuclear arsenal. Most employees began working remotely this week as the lab and adjacent town prepared for possible evacuations as a precaution.
Crews working that blaze have been using heavy machinery to clear out vegetation and build more fire lines in hopes of keeping the flames from moving closer to the community.
US finds 500 Native American boarding school deaths so far - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press
A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native American boarding schools that for over a century sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society has identified more than 500 student deaths at the institutions, but officials expect that figure to grow exponentially as research continues.
The Interior Department report released Wednesday expands to more than 400 the number of schools that were established or supported by the U.S. government, starting in the early 19th century and continuing in some cases until the late 1960s. The agency identified the deaths in records for about 20 of the schools.
The dark history of Native American boarding schools — where children were forced from their families, prohibited from speaking their languages and often abused — has been felt deeply across Indian Country and through generations.
Many children never returned home, and the Interior Department said that with further investigation the number of known student deaths could climb to the thousands or even tens of thousands. Causes included disease, accidental injuries and abuse.
"Each of those children is a missing family member, a person who was not able to live out their purpose on this Earth because they lost their lives as part of this terrible system," said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, whose paternal grandparents were sent to boarding school for several years.
The agency is in the process of poring through thousands of boxes containing more than 98 million pages of records, with help from many Indigenous people who have had to work through their own trauma and pain. Accounting for the number of deaths will be difficult because records weren't always kept.
A second volume of the report will cover burial sites as well as the federal government's financial investment in the schools and the impacts of the boarding schools on Indigenous communities, the Interior Department said. It has so far identified at least 53 burial sites at or near boarding schools, not all of which have marked graves.
Tribal leaders have pressed the agency to ensure that any children's remains are properly cared for and returned to their tribes, if desired. To prevent them from being disturbed, the burial sites' locations will not be publicly released, said Bryan Newland, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs.
At a news conference Wednesday, Haaland choked back tears as she described how the boarding school era perpetuated poverty, mental health disorders, substance abuse and premature deaths in Indigenous communities.
"Recognizing the impacts of the federal Indian boarding school system cannot just be a historical reckoning," she said. "We must also chart a path forward to deal with these legacy issues."
Haaland, who is Laguna, announced an initiative last June to investigate the schools' troubled legacy and uncover the truth about the government's role in them. The 408 schools her agency identified operated in 37 states or territories, many of them in Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.
Others who spoke included Deborah Parker, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, who tearfully recalled stories of a boarding school on the Tulalip reservation, where she's from in Washington state. The school had a small jail cell and a basement where at least one girl routinely was chained to a heater and beaten, she said. Others hid to shield themselves from abuse.
"I am concerned when we begin to open these doors for our boarding school survivors to come forward and share their stories," Parker said.
Basil Brave Heart attended Holy Rosary Mission in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, in the 1940s. He called having his hair cut by older students a "divide and conquer" strategy that made Native children take part in their own cultural destruction.
He was prohibited from practicing Lakota spiritual traditions and speaking his language that he said has a spiritual resonance not easily translated into English.
"Taking our language away is huge," he said Wednesday. "It goes to our identity."
The Interior Department acknowledged the number of schools identified could change as more data is gathered. The coronavirus pandemic and budget restrictions hindered some of the research over the past year, said Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community.
The U.S. government directly ran some of the boarding schools. Catholic, Protestant and other churches operated others with federal funding, backed by U.S. laws and policies to "civilize" Native Americans. The federal government still oversees more than 180 schools in nearly two dozen states that serve Native Americans, but the schools' missions are vastly different from the past.
The Interior Department report was prompted by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada that brought back painful memories for Indigenous communities.
Haaland also announced Wednesday a yearlong tour for Interior Department officials that will allow former boarding school students from Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages and Native Hawaiian communities to share their stories as part of a permanent oral history collection.
The conditions at boarding and residential schools varied across the U.S. and Canada. While some former students have reported positive experiences, children at the schools often were subject to military-style discipline.
James LaBelle Sr., who is Inupiaq, said he attended to two federal boarding schools where he learned about European and American history and language, math and science but nothing about Indigenous cultures and traditions.
"I came out not knowing who I was," he said.
The boarding school coalition, which created an early inventory of the schools and shared its research with the Interior Department, praised Interior's work but noted the agency's scope is limited. The coalition has identified about 90 other boarding schools that fall outside the federal government's criteria.
A U.S. House subcommittee on Thursday will hear testimony on a bill to create a truth and healing commission modeled after one in Canada. Parker said it's important in revealing a fuller truth about what happened to Native children.
"Our children deserve to be found," she said. "Our children deserve to be brought home. We are here for their justice. And we will not stop advocating until the United States fully accounts for the genocide committed against Native children."
Analysis: No election fraud detected so far in messy Otero County audit
Margaret Wright, Source New Mexico
Election-deniers probing 2020 results in Otero County updated elected officials there this week on the status of their voter audit, which recently sparked a congressional investigation into its legality.
The evening’s heated conversation centered on the fragile state of contemporary democratic processes, but opening Monday night’s crowded special meeting of the Otero County Commission in Alamogordo was retired Sandia National Laboratories engineer Jeffrey Lenberg, a spectacled older man in a suit.
His demeanor was reserved next to local firebrand David Clements. Along with Clements’ wife Erin, they told commissioners and attendees about the status of a local 2020 general election audit contracted by the county in January — one of several launched across the United States in response to pressure from Trump adherents falsely convinced his election loss was the result of fraud.
Former President Trump won Otero County in 2020 by a wide margin.
David Clements, a former district attorney and New Mexico State University law professor fired for non-compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures, has been the most vociferous driver of the Otero audit. In March, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver decried the audit and its associated canvassing of registered voters as a “vigilante” effort that could further undermine public faith in elections.
Both Lenberg and the Clements spoke with zeal about their county-wide work with the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force. Lenberg said his qualifications included years as an electrical engineer and systems security analyst for Sandia Labs throughout the 1980s and 90s, as well as a stint volunteering technical expertise for a Maryland election integrity effort in 1994.
After a Daily Beast report was published about the Otero County audit, Lenberg said that the original contractor, a digital communications company owned by conspiracist and aspiring Massachusetts politician Shiva Ayyadurai, “made the determination they didn’t want to be involved in some of the controversy and the political nature of the issues.” On March 17 — the day after a congressional panel sent a letter requesting information about the audit to Echomail — the company turned over the work completed so far to Lenberg and the Clements.
The next day, Ayyadurai wrote a letter to the U.S. House Oversight Committee that denied EchoMail was involved in the Otero audit. He also refused any affiliation with the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force.
EchoMail refunded some of the taxpayer-funded payment to the county. “We had to come to an agreement over how much that was worth,” Lenberg said, and “after talking to them, we were able to get a refund of $15,125. They spent just under $10,000 on work they did do.”
EchoMail’s analysis for the county detected no fraud, said Lenberg — before immediately back-tracking his statement.
“That is not to say that there was no fraud or issues, because that was, again, a very limited analysis. The county has no further contracts with EchoMail or any contract for further audits to occur. But I believe the Clements and their organization are continuing an independent analysis of the 2020 election because they’re concerned citizens.”
Lenberg repeatedly thanked and commended the Otero County Clerk’s Office for all the information and help they’d provided for his analysis of their election systems, which in his opinion was functional overall but still contained some technical “vulnerabilities” to interference.
CONVICTED COMMISSIONER EXPLAINS THE AUDIT
The commissioner with the most full-throated (if raspy) support for the audit was Cowboys for Trump frontman Couy Griffin.
He told attendees that he’d talked to a member of the press before the meeting who’d asked if he thought the audit would uncover more local votes from 2020 for former president Donald Trump.
Griffin, who was convicted last month of trespassing resulting from his prayerful rallying of rioters at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 coup attempt, said he’d replied that he wasn’t concerned about the vote count. “I’m concerned about the law being followed.”
Griffin conceded that like many others, he hasn’t moved on from the 2020 election results. “If there’s a footprint that’s still left, digitally speaking, on the 2020 election, that could directly produce direct evidence of this fraud … if we have to take whatever measures it would take to look deeper into them, I would also be in favor of that.”
“The country is depending on it,” David Clements replied.
A HISTORY OF DISPUTES
Clements cited Christian scripture repeatedly during the County Commission meeting. “The Lord abhors inaccurate weights and measures,” he said, declaring Otero County “a potential crime scene.” Then he urged attendees to watch a documentary by Dinesh D’Souza, a right-wing conspiracist whose felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions was overturned by Trump.
Clements himself has been in several heated disputes over the years. He contested the primary results of his 2014 run for U.S. Senate. He was fired in 2021 from his position teaching business law at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces for refusing to comply with mask and vaccine mandates.
At the same time, he was gaining notoriety among Trump supporters on their Big Lie circuit as a salt-and-peppered “good professor” lending his knowledge to a cadre of 2020 election conspiracists. He has 125,000 subscribers to his Telegram social media channel and until recently, hewed closely to Lin Wood, one of the many characters who emerged to spread the Big Lie about the 2020 election. According to additional Daily Beast reporting earlier this month, Wood and the Clements appear to have had a falling-out over Otero County’s audit.
“What’s it worth to you when you sleep at night?” Clements asked commissioners Monday night. “Right now, you’ve got a packed room here that doesn’t believe that their votes matter, and we’re on the cusp of a primary election … You need to leave this session knowing that this is an emergency.”
Meanwhile, the communications director for the Secretary of State’s office, Alex Curtas, told Source New Mexico in a written statement Tuesday that methods of the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force are faulty, and the conclusions they’ve drawn “to impugn the integrity of our elections are utterly and completely false.”
New Mexico runs some of the safest, most efficient, and most transparent elections in the entire country, he wrote.
“We encourage voters to seek out trusted sources of election information, like through their county clerk or our office, and to look skeptically on claims about the Big Lie like those pushed by Mr. and Mrs. Clements.”
Toward the end of the Monday evening’s proceedings, David Clements rhetoric had stoked to a fever pitch. He told commissioners they would have to choose “whether we’re going to kowtow and be bullied” by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.
Clements told the commissioners what to do: Call an emergency session. Declare a vote of no-confidence in the conduct of local elections. Vote that elections be conducted solely by hand-counts of paper ballots.
“This is about courage. That’s all it comes down to. Do you have the same courage as the stuff that we’re demonstrating? Please do not wait. Please get this on the agenda as an action item and don’t put yourselves in the position to certify this mess, because I can guarantee you this. We’re not going away. We’ll be back every two weeks until we die if necessary to get this straightened out.”
Time is ticking away, he said gravely.
Commissioner Griffin agreed with Lenberg and David Clemens that the county needed to proceed with eliminating voting machines.
“I’m amazed and boggled that we put so much faith and trust and confidence in a digital machine,” Griffin said, to public applause and cheers. Scarce pushback against the commission’s ongoing determination to undermine election norms was either waved off or shouted down by the Clements or Griffin.
Elected Republican County Clerk Robyn Holmes spoke up throughout the meeting, saying that the Clements’ evidence of fraud appeared either misinterpreted or inaccurate, to which Erin replied, “We don’t answer to you. I’m sorry. … We’re auditors. This is an approved audit.”
County Attorney R.B. Nichols tried highlighting that state law requires use of voting machines in every county, and that the Otero County clerk recommends their use. On top of that, he said, “there’s federal law that we use at least one machine, at each precinct, to meet ADA standards.”
“That’s why David mentioned courage,” Griffin replied, gesturing to Clements.
As the meeting finally began to wind down, someone held a cell phone up to a microphone so Commissioner Vickie Marquardt could call in and affirm that she’d been attending, if remotely. She said she still fully supports the audit.
“Thank God for technology,” Griffin said, “that you can dial up and stay on with what’s going on.”
Film producers defend safety in Alec Baldwin shooting - Associated Press
A film production company is contesting sanctions by New Mexico officials for alleged workplace safety violations on the set of "Rust," where actor and producer Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer in October, according to filings posted Wednesday by state regulators.
Rust Movie Productions is challenging the basis of a $137,000 fine against the company by state occupational safety regulators who say production managers on the set of the Western film failed to follow standard industry protocols for firearms safety.
At a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins inside a small church during setup for the filming of a scene when it went off, killing Hutchins and wounding the director, Joel Souza.
Baldwin said in a December interview with ABC News that he was pointing the gun at Hutchins at her instruction when it went off without his pulling the trigger.
"The law properly permits producers to delegate such critical functions as firearm safety to experts in that field and does not place such responsibility on producers whose expertise is in arranging financing and contracting for the logistics of filming," Rust Movie Productions said in its filing. The company "did not 'willfully' violate any safety protocol, and in fact enforced all applicable safety protocols."
In April, New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau imposed the maximum fine against Rust Movie Productions and distributed a scathing narrative of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on set prior to the fatal shooting.
The bureau also documented gun safety complaints from crew members that went unheeded and said weapons specialists were not allowed to make decisions about additional safety training.
Rust Movie Productions responded in its filing by saying that misfires prior to the fatal shooting of Hutchins did not violate safety protocols and that "appropriate corrective actions were taken, including briefings of cast and crew."
"In fact, a safety meeting was held the morning of the incident," the company said, apparently referring to the shooting of Hutchins. The filing does not elaborate further.
Rust Movie Productions also is challenging allegations that film set armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed was overburdened, asserting that she had sufficient time to properly inspect and safeguard all firearms and ammunition on set. The production company cites comments by a costume designer who said Reed had "plenty of time" to do her job properly.
State investigators say that Gutierrez Reed was limited to eight paid days as an armorer to oversee weapons and training, and was assigned otherwise to lighter duties as a props assistant. As her time as an armorer ran out, Gutierrez Reed warned a manager and was rebuffed.
The sheriff investigating the fatal film-set shooting has described disorganization and neglected safety measures in the making of the low-budget movie. Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza has said he is waiting on a forensic analysis of the weapon, projectile, fingerprints and more from the FBI and state medical examiners before turning the case over to prosecutors to decide whether criminal charges will be filed.
State findings and sanctions against Rust Movie Productions hold implications for at least five lawsuits that have been filed over the shooting, including a wrongful death suit brought by Hutchins' family against Baldwin and the movie's other producers.
The lawsuit on behalf of widower Matt Hutchins and his 9-year-old son alleges a "callous" disregard in the face of safety complaints on the set.
The state fines would apply to a film with a budget of about $7 million. Baldwin was assigned a salary of $250,000 as an actor and producer and may have put some of that money back into the production.
Rust Movie Productions says in its filing that all personnel on set were instructed that they had authority to cease activities at any time until safety concerns were resolved, with film union stewards on site to ensure compliance with labor-union safety protocols.