This paper provides a comparison of selected algorithms that have been proposed for global active fire monitoring using data from the NOAA Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). A simple theoretical model was used to generate scenes of AVHRR infrared channel 3 and channel 4 data containing fires of various sizes and temperatures in a wide range of terrestrial biomes and climates. Three active fire detection algorithms were applied to the simulated AVHRR images and their performance was characterized in terms of probability of fire detection and false alarm as functions of fire temperature and area, solar and viewing geometry, visibility, season and biome. Additional comparisons were made using AVHRR imagery. Results indicate that while each algorithm has a comparable probability of detecting large (1000m2) fires in most biomes, substantial differences exist in their ability to detect small fires, their tolerance of smoke and neighbouring fires, the number of false alarms, and their overall suitability for global application. An improved automatic algorithm is finally presented. It offers enhanced active fire detection with comparable or reduced false alarm rates in most biomes.