An impressive amount of evidence supports the proposal of Alvarez et al. that the Cretaceous era was ended abruptly by the impact of a comet or asteroid. The recent discovery of an apparently global soot layer at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary indicates that global wildfires were somehow ignited by the impact. Here we show that the thermal radiation produced by the ballistic re-entry of ejecta condensed from the vapour plume of the impact could have increased the global radiation flux by factors of 50 to 150 times the solar input for periods ranging from one to several hours. This great increase in thermal radiation may have been responsible for the ignition of global wildfires, as well as having deleterious effects on unprotected animal life.