Borneo has experienced heavy deforestation and forest degradation during the past two decades. In this study the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer was used to monitor land cover change in Borneo between 2002 and 2005 in order to assess the current extent of the forest cover, the deforestation rate and the role of fire. Using Landsat and ground observation for validation it was possible to discriminate 11 land cover classes. In 2002 57% of the land surface of Borneo was covered with forest of which 74% was dipterocarp and more than 23% peat swamp forest. The average deforestation rate between 2002 and 2005 was 1.7% yr− 1. The carbon-rich ecosystem of peat swamp forests showed a deforestation rate of 2.2%. Almost 98% of all deforestation occurred within a range of 5 km to the forest edge. Fire is highly correlated with land cover changes. Most fires were detected in degraded forests. Ninety-eight per cent of all forest fires were detected in the 5 km buffer zone, underlining that fire is the major driver for forest degradation and deforestation.