The potential of the recent SPOT VEGETATION (VGT) sensor for characterizing boreal forest fires was investigated. Its capability for hotspot detection and burned area mapping was assessed by analysing a series of VGT, NOAA/AVHRR, and Landsat TM images over a 1541 km2 fire that occurred in May 1998, in Alberta, Canada. VGT's 1.65m, short-wave infrared (SWIR) channel was capable of detecting thermal emissions from intense fires, although it was considerably less sensitive to hotspots than the 3.7m channel from NOAA's Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR). The SWIR also enabled burned areas to be more easily discriminated compared to the visible and nearinfrared (NIR) channels. The SWIR and NIR channels were combined to produce a new index that provides better separation of burned forest with less sensitivity to smoke aerosol than the commonly used Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).