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Forest age distribution and occurrence of traces of past fires was studied in a natural Picea abies -dominated landscape in the Onega peninsula in north-west Russia. Forest age (maximum tree age) was determined and charcoal and fire scars were searched for in 43 randomly located study plots. In 70% of the study plots (30/43) trees older than 200 years existed. The largest 50-year age class consisted of plots with 251–300 year old forests. Traces of fires were found in all types of study plots, in forests on mineral soil as well as on peatlands. However, fire has been a rare disturbance factor, as traces of fires could not be found in 35% of the study plots (15/43). Estimated from the forest age class distribution, the fire rotation time for the whole area has been at least 300 years, but possibly considerably longer. This fire rotation time is much longer than fire history studies (largely based on examination of fire scars) commonly have reported for the average time between successive fires in Fennoscandia and Northwest Russia. The results suggest that the often stated generalisations about the importance and natural frequency of fire disturbance in boreal forests do not apply in landscapes dominated by Picea abies.