High latitude drainage basins are experiencing increases in temperature higher than the global average, with snowmelt dominated basins most sensitive to effects in winter because of the snowpack's integration of these changes over the season. This may influence the timing of snowmelt onset, the melt-refreeze period and snowpack accumulation resulting in changes in spring runoff, associated flooding and drought conditions later in the year, possibly enhancing forest fire potential. Large burned areas cleared of vegetation change discharge dynamics and may affect snowmelt characteristics and discharge in subsequent seasons. Correlations are tested by comparing forest fire occurrence with spring melt onset, the end of the melt-refreeze period (after which snow rapidly depletes) and early snowmelt events. Snow characteristics are derived from brightness temperature (Tb) data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) for 2003–2010. Dates of melt onset, end of melt-refreeze and early melt events are defined with Tb and diurnal amplitude variation thresholds. Areas and intensities of forest fires are from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) thermal anomaly data (MOD14), and all data are mapped to an Equal-Area Scalable Earth Grid to assess spatial correlations. Earlier melt onset and end of melt-refreeze are found in years and areas of high forest fire occurrence by comparing high (2004–2005) and low (2006–2007) fire years in the Porcupine sub-basin of the Yukon River in northeastern Alaska and the Yukon Territory. The burned areas also correlate with relatively later melt onset and later end of melt-refreeze in subsequent low fire years. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.