We present a convenient physically based global-scale fire parameterization algorithm for global climate models. We indicate environmental conditions favorable for fire occurrence based on calculation of the vapor pressure deficit as a function of location and time. Two ignition models are used. One assumes ubiquitous ignition, the other incorporates natural and anthropogenic sources, as well as anthropogenic fire suppression. Evaluation of the method using Global Precipitation Climatology Project precipitation, National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research temperature and relative humidity, and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Leaf Area Index as a proxy for global vegetation density gives results in remarkable correspondence with global fire patterns observed from the MODIS and Visible and Infrared Scanner satellite instruments. The parameterized fires successfully reproduce the spatial distribution of global fires as well as the seasonal variability. The interannual variability of global fire activity derived from the 20-year advanced very high resolution radiometer record are well reproduced using Goddard Institute for Space Studies general circulation models climate simulations, as is the response to the climate changes following the eruptions of El Chichon and Mount Pinatubo. In conjunction with climate models and data sets on vegetation changes with time, the suggested fire parameterization offers the possibility to estimate relative variations of global fire activity for past and future climates.