There is interest in the global community on how fire regimes are changing as a function of changing demographics and climate. The ground-based data to monitor such trends in fire activity are inadequate at the global scale. Satellite observations provide a basis for such a monitoring system. In this study, a set of metrics were developed from 6 years of MODIS active fire data. The metrics were grouped into eight classes representing three axes of fire activity: density, season duration and interannual variability. These groups were compared with biophysical and human explanatory variables on a global scale. We found that more than 30% of the land surface has a significant fire frequency. The most extensive fire class exhibited high fire density, low duration and high variability and was found in boreal and tropical wet and dry environments. A high association was found between population distribution and fire persistence. Low GDP km−2 was associated with fire classes with high interannual variability and low seasonal duration. In areas with more economic resources, fires tend to be more regular and last longer. High fire duration and low interannual variability were associated with croplands, but often with low fire density. The study was constrained by the limited length of satellite data record but is a first step toward developing a comprehensive global assessment of fire regimes. However, more attention is needed by the global observing systems to provide the underpinning socio-economic observations to better quantify and analyze the human characteristics of fire regimes.