In this special issue of Plant Ecology celebrating the research contributions of the late Peter J. Clarke, we review advances in understanding of interactions between fire and vegetation, and the role of these interactions in shaping the evolution of plant species. The research presented here reviews the measurement of fire severity and plant responses to it, particularly through resistance traits such as thick bark, and resilience traits such as regenerative organs and fire-cued recruitment. It explores genetic and ecological evidence for evolutionary hypotheses that provide insights into associations among plant traits and the causes of their non-random distribution across fire-prone landscapes. At these larger scales, the advances include new evidence for existence of fire-mediated alternative stable states and improved understanding of how ecological responses to fire might change under future climates. The diversity of subjects and scales of ecological organisation addressed in this collection of papers reflect the breadth and depth of Peter Clarke’s legacy in fire ecology.