We explore the large spatial variation in the relationship between population density and burned area, using continental-scale Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR) based on 13 years of satellite-derived burned area maps from the global fire emissions database (GFED) and the human population density from the gridded population of the world (GPW 2005). Significant relationships are observed over 51.5% of the global land area, and the area affected varies from continent to continent: population density has a significant impact on fire over most of Asia and Africa but is important in explaining fire over <22% of Europe and Australia. Increasing population density is associated with both increased and decreased in fire. The nature of the relationship depends on land-use: increasing population density is associated with increased burned are in rangelands but with decreased burned area in croplands. Overall, the relationship between population density and burned area is non-monotonic: burned area initially increases with population density and then decreases when population density exceeds a threshold. These thresholds vary regionally. Our study contributes to improved understanding of how human activities relate to burned area, and should contribute to a better estimate of atmospheric emissions from biomass burning.