Four CO2 concentration inversions and the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) versions 2.1 and 3 are used to provide benchmarks for climate-driven modeling of the global land-atmosphere CO2 flux and the contribution of wildfire to this flux. The Land surface Processes and exchanges (LPX) model is introduced. LPX is based on the Lund-Potsdam-Jena Spread and Intensity of FIRE (LPJ-SPITFIRE) model with amended fire probability calculations. LPX omits human ignition sources yet simulates many aspects of global fire adequately. It captures the major features of observed geographic pattern in burnt area and its seasonal timing and the unimodal relationship of burnt area to precipitation. It simulates features of geographic variation in the sign of the interannual correlations of burnt area with antecedent dryness and precipitation. It simulates well the interannual variability of the global total land-atmosphere CO2 flux. There are differences among the global burnt area time series from GFED2.1, GFED3 and LPX, but some features are common to all. GFED3 fire CO2 fluxes account for only about 1/3 of the variation in total CO2 flux during 1997–2005. This relationship appears to be dominated by the strong climatic dependence of deforestation fires. The relationship of LPX-modeled fire CO2 fluxes to total CO2 fluxes is weak. Observed and modeled total CO2 fluxes track the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) closely; GFED3 burnt area and global fire CO2 flux track the ENSO much less so. The GFED3 fire CO2 flux-ENSO connection is most prominent for the El Niño of 1997–1998, which produced exceptional burning conditions in several regions, especially equatorial Asia. The sign of the observed relationship between ENSO and fire varies regionally, and LPX captures the broad features of this variation. These complexities underscore the need for process-based modeling to assess the consequences of global change for fire and its implications for the carbon cycle.