Fire has been a natural and essential stand-renewing agent in boreal forests for millennia, and development of the boreal zone for industrial and recreational purposes has required the concurrent development of forest fire management programs that balance the protection of life and property with the ecological need for natural fire. Current estimates are that an average of 5-15 million hectares burn annually in boreal forests, primarily in Siberia, Canada and Alaska, and there is a growing global awareness of the importance, and vulnerability, of this region with respect to projected future climate change. National forest fire research programs have a long and productive history in North America and Russia, addressing major and topical fire management needs as they have evolved, in close cooperation with operational fire management agencies. In Canada and the United States, traditional research has focused largely on the development of national fire danger rating and fire behavior prediction systems, evaluation of fire suppression methods, fire ecology, fuels management, and the development of computerized decision support systems integrating remote sensing, fire occurrence prediction, resource allocation and fire growth models. The history of fire research in Russia, although isolated from the West, has followed a somewhat similar path, with emphasis on fire danger rating and ecology, and the development of fire suppression equipment. The recent economic stagnation and collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in a dramatic drop in funding for both fire research and operational fire management in that country. Since the early 1990s boreal fire research has been characterized by a move away from isolated and traditional national research objectives towards much more integrated, international and multi-disciplinary approaches to common boreal fire research problems. This more global approach has been driven by the recognition that impending global change issues affect all northern countries, and that these problems require broad consensus to effect solutions. This is the way of the future in boreal fire research. Recent and ongoing examples of this approach include: the International Crown Fire Modeling Experiment in Canada's Northwest Territories; the FROSTFIRE Experiment in interior Alaska, and the FIRE BEAR, FIRESCAN, and Northern Eurasian Initiative Projects in central Siberia. Significant impending climate change impacts across the boreal zone are forecast to involve changes in natural disturbance regimes, including increases in area burned, fire occurrence, intensity and severity, with resultant impacts on boreal forest carbon budgets and atmospheric chemistry. It is clear that the future of boreal fire science will involve further integration with other science disciplines, as fire becomes a significant part of emerging broader issues.