Forest and vegetation fires, used as tools for agriculture and deforestation, are a major source of air pollutants and can cause serious air quality issues in many parts of Asia. Actions to reduce fire may offer considerable, yet largely unrecognized, options for rapid improvements in air quality. In this study, we used a combination of regional and global air quality models and observations to examine the impact of forest and vegetation fires on air quality degradation and public health in Southeast Asia (including Mainland Southeast Asia and south-eastern China). We found that eliminating fire could substantially improve regional air quality across Southeast Asia by reducing the population exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations by 7% and surface ozone concentrations by 5%. These reductions in PM2.5 exposures would yield a considerable public health benefit across the region; averting 59,000 (95% uncertainty interval (95UI): 55,200-62,900) premature deaths annually. Analysis of subnational infant mortality rate data and PM2.5 exposure suggested that PM2.5 from fires disproportionately impacts poorer populations across Southeast Asia. We identified two key regions in northern Laos and western Myanmar where particularly high levels of poverty coincide with exposure to relatively high levels of PM2.5 from fires. Our results show that reducing forest and vegetation fires should be a public health priority for the Southeast Asia region.