The title refers to the burn notices issued by intelligence agencies to discredit or announce the dismissal of agents or sources who are considered to have become unreliable. When a spy is burned, he/she is basically wiped off the grid. He/she has no prior work history, no money; basically no identity. Wherever they are left, they have to stay. In some cases, the burned spy is actually killed. The television series is a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of covert-operations agent Michael Westen.