MODIS active fire data offer new information about global fire patterns. However, uncertainties in detection rates can render satellite-derived fire statistics difficult to interpret. We evaluated the MODIS 1??km daily active fire product to quantify detection rates for both Terra and Aqua MODIS sensors, examined how cloud cover and fire size affected detection rates, and estimated how detection rates varied across the United States. MODIS active fire detections were compared to 361 reference fires (??? 18??ha) that had been delineated using pre- and post-fire Landsat imagery. Reference fires were considered detected if at least one MODIS active fire pixel occurred within 1??km of the edge of the fire. When active fire data from both Aqua and Terra were combined, 82% of all reference fires were found, but detection rates were less for Aqua and Terra individually (73% and 66% respectively). Fires not detected generally had more cloudy days, but not when the Aqua data were considered exclusively. MODIS detection rates decreased with fire size, and the size at which 50% of all fires were detected was 105??ha when combining Aqua and Terra (195??ha for Aqua and 334??ha for Terra alone). Across the United States, detection rates were greatest in the West, lower in the Great Plains, and lowest in the East. The MODIS active fire product captures large fires in the U.S. well, but may under-represent fires in areas with frequent cloud cover or rapidly burning, small, and low-intensity fires. We recommend that users of the MODIS active fire data perform individual validations to ensure that all relevant fires are included. ?? 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.