Over the past 20 years the combined effects of El Niño-induced droughts and land-use change have dramatically increased the frequency of fire in humid tropical forests. Despite the potential for rapid ecosystem alteration and the current prevalence of wildfire disturbance, the consequences of such fires for tropical forest biodiversity remain poorly understood. We provide a pan-tropical review of the current state of knowledge of these fires, and include data from a study in a seasonally dry terra firme forest of central Brazilian Amazonia. Overall, this study supports predictions that rates of tree mortality and changes in forest structure are strongly linked to burn severity. The potential consequences for biomass loss and carbon emissions are explored. Despite the paucity of data on faunal responses to tropical forest fires, some trends are becoming apparent; for example, large canopy frugivores and understorey insectivorous birds appear to be highly sensitive to changes in forest structure and composition during the first 3 years after fires. Finally, we appraise the management implications of fires and evaluate the viability of techniques and legislation that can be used to reduce forest flammability, prevent anthropogenic ignition sources from coming into contact with flammable forests and aid the post-fire recovery process.