Productivity is strongly associated with terrestrial species richness patterns, although the mechanisms underpinning such patterns have long been debated. Despite considerable consumption of primary productivity by fire, its influence on global diversity has received relatively little study. Here we examine the sensitivity of terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity (amphibians, birds and mammals) to fire, while accounting for other drivers. We analyse global data on terrestrial vertebrate richness, net primary productivity, fire occurrence (fraction of productivity consumed) and additional influences unrelated to productivity (i.e., historical phylogenetic and area effects) on species richness. For birds, fire is associated with higher diversity, rivalling the effects of productivity on richness, and for mammals, fire's positive association with diversity is even stronger than productivity; for amphibians, in contrast, there are few clear associations. Our findings suggest an underappreciated role for fire in the generation of animal species richness and the conservation of global biodiversity.