In the last decade, extensive fires have occurred on most continents, affecting a wide range of ecosystems. We convened a Symposium at the 3rd International Fire Ecology and Management Congress in 2006 to address the issue of large fires and their ecological consequences in landscapes. The 10 papers presented here variously discuss the place of large fires in the context of historical fire regimes, the heterogeneity of fire regime components that are associated with large fires, and the ecological consequences of large fires. The discussions cover a range of biomes, from tropical to temperate, across the world. Three consistent themes emerged: firstly, large fires are usually a part of the Historical Range of Variability; secondly, large fires are inherently heterogeneous, leaving footprints of spatial and temporal diversity that may influence landscapes for decades; and thirdly, large fires have been perceived as socially and ecologically 'disastrous', due to obvious and significant deleterious effects on life and property, and the scale of immediate environmental impact. However, the papers presented here indicate that the long-term ecological impacts of individual large fires are not necessarily disastrous. Crucial impacts of large fires on ecosystems may depend largely on their rate of recurrence as well as landscape-scale variation in severity. The incidence and characteristics of large fires may change in the future, as a consequence of global climate change, and other social drivers of landscape change. © IAWF 2008. Reproduced from the International Journal of Wildland Fire (R.J. Williams and R.A. Bradstock, 2008) with the kind permission of CSIRO Publishing on behalf of the International Association of Wildland Fire. Abstract may not be reproduced in any other publication, whether printed or electronic, without the prior written permission of CSIRO Publishing.