Experience with the first 2 years of high quality data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) through quality control and validation has suggested several improvements to the original MODIS active fire detection algorithm described by Kaufman, Justice et al. [Journal of Geophysical Research 103 (1998) 32215]. In this paper, we present an improved replacement detection algorithm that offers increased sensitivity to smaller, cooler fires as well as a significantly lower false alarm rate. Performance of both the original and improved algorithm is established using a theoretical simulation and high-resolution Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) scenes. In general, the new algorithm can detect fires roughly half the minimum size that could be detected with the original algorithm while having an overall false alarm rate 10–100 times smaller.