Bowman et al. (Journal of Biogeography, 2011, 38, 2223-2236) attempt a synthesis of the current status of study into human use of fire as an ecosystem management tool and provide a framework for guiding research on the human dimensions of global fire. While we applaud this ambitious effort, we believe the proposed 'pyric phase and transition' model to be too deterministic and simplistic to account for the complexity and diversity in human-fire relationships. After reviewing theoretical problems with the proposed framework, we question policy implications of their conclusions concerning tropical forest systems. We suggest that a theoretically informed perspective should build on an historical fire ecology framework for investigating social and ecological aspects of human-environment interactions.