Daily global observations from the Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometers on the series of meteorological satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration between 1982 and 1999 were used to generate a new weekly global burnt surface product at a resolution of 8 km. Comparison with independently available information on fire locations and timing suggest that while the time-series cannot yet be used to make accurate and quantitative estimates of global burnt area it does provide a reliable estimate of changes in location and season of burning on the global scale. This time-series was used to characterize fire activity in both northern and southern hemispheres on the basis of average seasonal cycle and interannual variability. Fire seasonality and fire distribution data sets have been combined to provide gridded maps at 0.5° resolution documenting the probability of fire occurring in any given season for any location. A multiannual variogram constructed from 17 years of observations shows good agreement between the spatial–temporal behavior in fire activity and the ‘El Niño’ Southern Oscillation events, showing highly likely connections between both phenomena.