Abstract Fire is a signiﬁcant determinant of vegetation structure in Australia’s savannas and has been implicated in the decline of many species. Identifying the patterns of ﬁre in the landscape is fundamental to understanding vegetation dynamics but variation over time and space makes generalization difﬁcult and speciﬁc management recommendations elusive. In order to improve the knowledge base for ﬁre management in tropical savannas, we investigated interregional variation in ﬁre patterns in two Queensland bioregions, the Mount Isa Inlier (MII) and Cape York Peninsula (CYP), over a 5-year period (1999–2003). Remotely sensed satellite data were used to identify burnt areas on a monthly basis for the western half of the CYP bioregion and about two-thirds of the smaller MII. Fire scars were mapped from JPEG-compressed, low-resolution Landsat images using geographical information system technology and data were investigated to determine annual burning patterns. Patterns were interpreted with regard to meteorological information and recent ﬁre history. The area burnt per annum on western CYP was generally an order of magnitude greater than the area burnt on the MII. In the biggest ﬁre year, nearly 74% (5 295 098 ha) of the CYP landscape burnt, compared with 35% (1 770 771 ha) of the MII landscape. The minimum percentage of the CYP study area burnt in 1 year between 1999 and 2003 was 43.1%, compared with 1.6% for the MII. The reliability and amount of seasonal rainfall was a strong determinant of differences in time of ﬁre occurrence and area burnt between regions. Widespread wildﬁres were signiﬁcantly related to above average rainfall in the preceding 12 months in the Mt. Isa area but not in CYP. Rainfall also affected ﬁre frequency. Predictable wet season rainfall on CYP allowed for a biennial ﬁre return interval, while on the semiarid MII, the average ﬁre return interval was 5 years or longer. We conclude that the ﬁre patterns in the semiarid MII are similar to those reported for arid Australia, while ﬁre patterns in western CYP are comparable with other mesic savanna areas.