An analysis of the spatial and temporal patterns of global burned area with the Daily Tile US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometer Pathfinder 8 km Land dataset between 1981 and 2000 is presented. Nine distinct temporal and spatial fire patterns were identified at the global scale using principal components and cluster analysis. Three major fire seasons were identified from June to December and from February to June for different areas of the northern hemisphere and from October to March for the southern hemisphere. The area burned primarily followed the annual cycle and secondarily, an important 6-month cycle. Temporal cycles were unimportant in some equatorial and tropical areas in the northern hemisphere. The total annual burned area has not increased in the last 20 years but a significant increase was found in the mid-latitude and subtropical areas of the northern hemisphere which was offset by a slight decrease in burned area in tropical southeast Asia and Central America. Additionally, burned area has significantly increased during the summer in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere and in the boreal region, and the fire season starts earlier in the mid-latitudes. Total burned area was explained by the extent of savanna (wooded grassland) cover. Latitude was not determinative as divergent fire patterns were encountered and did not have an impact on extent of burned area at our spatial level of analysis.