High-resolution charcoal analysis of lake sediment cores was used to reconstruct the fire history from two sites in a mesic hardwood forest of south-eastern Wisconsin located in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Pollen data from the region indicate that the sites, which lie within 5 km of each other, have had a consistent presence of mesic hardwood forest for the last 6500 years. A pollen record from one of the sites confirmed the regional vegetation history and the charcoal analysis indicated that fire frequency at each site was temporally linked to regional drought. Periods of high fire occurrence occurred in connection with a region-wide drought 4200 years ago and, over the last 2000 years, shorter-scale regional droughts were centred at 1800, 1650, 1100, 1000, 800, 700 and 600 cal a BP. The fire histories indicate that the last 1000 years have had lower fire frequencies than the previous 6500 years and suggest that the mesic hardwood forests may be resilient to increases in fire that may result from future climate change. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.