During the 2004 fire season ~6.6 million acres (~2.7 million ha) burned across Alaska. Nearly 2 million of these were on National Wildlife Refuge System lands inaccessible from the state's limited road system. Many fires burned through September, driven by unusually warm and dry temperatures throughout the summer. Using several fires from this season, we assessed the national burn severity methodology's performance on refuge lands. Six fires, spanning 814 489 acres (329 613 ha), were sampled on five boreal forest refuges. In total, 347 sites were sampled for vegetation composition and ground-based burn severity estimates following the national protocols. The relationship between the differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (dNBR) and composite burn index (CBI) was unexpectedly weak (R2adjusted, 0.11-0.64). The weak relationship was not a result of data or image processing errors, nor of any biotic or abiotic confounding variable. The inconsistent results, and dNBR's limited ability to discern the ecologically significant differences within moderate and high severity burn sites, indicate that the current methodology does not satisfy key Alaskan boreal forest management objectives.