Living with fire is a challenge for human communities because they are influenced by socio-economic, political, ecological and climatic processes at various spatial and temporal scales. Over the course of 2 days, the authors discussed how communities could live with fire challenges at local, national and transnational scales. Exploiting our diverse, international and interdisciplinary expertise, we outline generalizable properties of fire-adaptive communities in varied settings where cultural knowledge of fire is rich and diverse. At the national scale, we discussed policy and management challenges for countries that have diminishing fire knowledge, but for whom global climate change will bring new fire problems. Finally, we assessed major fire challenges that transcend national political boundaries, including the health burden of smoke plumes and the climate consequences of wildfires. It is clear that to best address the broad range of fire problems, a holistic wildfire scholarship must develop common agreement in working terms and build across disciplines. We must also communicate our understanding of fire and its importance to the media, politicians and the general public.