The equatorial peatlands of the Kutai lowland of eastern Kalimantan are generally 4-10 m in thickness but some sections exceed 16 m in depth. The deposition of peat commenced about 8000 yrs ago after shallow flooding of the basin by the Mahakam River. The earliest vegetation is a Pandanus swamp which grades upwards to swamp forest dominated by dipterocarps. The peatland has expanded laterally and rivers have maintained narrow levee-channel tracks through the swamp, which has grown vertically in balance with river accretion. Historical fires are associated with extreme El Niño years of drought, but human agency is important. The fires of 1982-1983 and 1997-1998 burnt up to 85% of the vegetation on the peatland. Although charcoal analyses show that fire has occurred throughout the history of the peatland, it is rare in forests remote from rivers until the last 3000 years and only common within the last millennium. Fires are earlier and more frequent in sites accessible from waterways, and floodplains have been widely burnt down to water table or below, forming extensive lakes.