We use the historical presence of high-severity fire patches in mixed-conifer forests of the western United States to make several points that we hope will encourage development of a more ecologically informed view of severe wildland fire effects. First, many plant and animal species use, and have sometimes evolved to depend on, severely burned forest conditions for their persistence. Second, evidence from fire history studies also suggests that a complex mosaic of severely burned conifer patches was common historically in the West. Third, to maintain ecological integrity in forests born of mixed-severity fire, land managers will have to accept some severe fire and maintain the integrity of its aftermath. Lastly, public education messages surrounding fire could be modified so that people better understand and support management designed to maintain ecologically appropriate sizes and distributions of severe fire and the complex early-seral forest conditions it creates.