Over 75 species of alien plants were recorded during the first five years after fire in southern California shrublands, most of which were European annuals. Both cover and richness of aliens varied between years and plant association. Alien cover was lowest in the first postfire year in all plant associations and remained low during succession in chaparral but increased in sage scrub. Alien cover and richness were significantly correlated with year (time since disturbance) and with precipitation in both coastal and interior sage scrub associations. Hypothesized factors determining alien dominance were tested with structural equation modeling. Models that included nitrogen deposition and distance from the coast were not significant, but with those variables removed we obtained a significant model that gave an R2 = 0.60 for the response variable of fifth year alien dominance. Factors directly affecting alien dominance were (1) woody canopy closure and (2) alien seed banks. Significant indirect effects were (3) fire intensity, (4) fire history, (5) prefire stand structure, (6) aridity, and (7) community type. According to this model the most critical factor influencing aliens is the rapid return of the shrub and subshrub canopy. Thus, in these communities a single functional type (woody plants) appears to the most critical element controlling alien invasion and persistence. Fire history is an important indirect factor because it affects both prefire stand structure and postfire alien seed banks. Despite being fire-prone ecosystems, these shrublands are not adapted to fire per se, but rather to a particular fire regime. Alterations in the fire regime produce a very different selective environment, and high fire frequency changes the selective regime to favor aliens. This study does not support the widely held belief that prescription burning is a viable management practice for controlling alien species on semiarid landscapes. ?? 2005 by the Ecological Society of America.