Peasants in northwestern Spain and northern Portugal set fires to get rid of encroaching vegetation and create new pasture for livestock. The region has a relatively low risk of accidental wildfires because of the humid climate and low frequency of dry storms but has the highest frequency of fires and the largest accumulated burnt area in Europe. Every summer people die caught in the middle of fire, huge amounts of money are poured into fire fighting, the landscape turns black and the smoke makes for beautiful sunsets. The government response is peculiar.
In the eighties I remember reading many newspaper headlines such as this: "One in every ten fires in Galicia intentional" [Galicia, where I live, is in northwestern Spain.] The headlines were extracted from government press releases that in the end acknowledged that "10% of fires are intentional, 90% have unknown causes." "Unknown" meant that police officers writing fire reports did not fill the "cause" box. Most newspaper readers would simply conclude that nine in ten fires were accidental or natural.
The official taboo about the causes of fires continues to this day, as does the public ignorance of the matter. But it is taking new forms, as nobody still dares to imply that fires are accidental. A few years ago, a top government official said the fires were set by "organized gangs of pyromaniacs." Another top official is now saying that the intent of people setting fires is "to sow uneasiness and to alarm society," and the Spanish Minister of the Environment, Cristina Narbona, more bluntly accuses them of conducting "forest terrorism" [although fires usually affect scrubland, rarely tree plantations, and almost never the few remaining native woodlands].
For fear of losing votes no politician dares to name farmers. Quite the opposite, politicians keep subsidizing every fat cow and every little sheep. They keep paying for expensive telephone lines, roads and school buses (often school SUV's) reaching remote farms surrounded by eroded, sometimes black, landscape. They keep paying for fire brigades so that fire does not reach the peasants' homes. And they keep glorifying the traditional rural way of life.