Wildfires in boreal forests release large quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change. Here, we characterize the magnitude of recent and projected gross and net boreal North American wildfire carbon dioxide emissions, evaluate fire management as an emissions reduction strategy, and quantify the associated costs. Our results show that wildfires in boreal North America could, by mid-century, contribute to a cumulative net source of nearly 12 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, about 3% of remaining global carbon dioxide emissions associated with keeping temperatures within the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. With observations from Alaska, we show that current fire management practices limit the burned area. Further, the costs of avoiding carbon dioxide emissions by means of increasing investment in fire management are comparable to or lower than those of other mitigation strategies. Together, our findings highlight the climate risk that boreal wildfires pose and point to fire management as a cost-effective way to limit emissions.