The use of fire as one tool for changing the characteristics of California's wildlands has long been a subject of controversy. Undeniably fire can be an economic and useful tool and can help achieve desirable results, if used in the right place and time and manner. The controversy arises in trying to define what is 'right.' This paper attempts to summarize the use of fire in California and to review the known ecological effects of fire. A brief notice is given to alternatives to fire. This paper was prepared originally in September 1975 as a regional input to a national summary of the use of fire in the management of wildlands. The national summary will be a report to the Executive Council of the Society of American Foresters. By agreement the regional summaries were to emphasize the use of fire on state and privately owned lands, with one individual summarizing the use of fire by federal land-management agencies. The author*s intent was to review very broadly the state-of-the-art of using fire in California, not to evaluate the worth of prescribed burning for specific purposes.