We propose a model of 'premature tree decline' whereby an absence of fire hastens the mortality of overstorey eucalypts in some forests. This model is relevant to some temperate Australian forests in which fire regimes have shifted from relatively frequent before European settlement to infrequent following settlement. The increased development of midstorey vegetation and litter accumulation has occurred since European settlement in some specific examples of Asutralian forests and woodlands. Our model proposes that in the long absence of fire: 1. midstorey vegetation reduces the availability of soil water for eucalypts and; 2. Eucalypts have less access to P and/or cations as these elements become locked up in soil, litter and midstorey biomass. We highlight important knowledge gaps and argue that research into ecological burning, for eucalypt health and other values such as biodiversity, is urgently required.