A simple Markov model is used to test the hypothesis that the floristic composition of vegetation colonizing bare ground immediately after burning is the major factor influencing post-fire development in heathland vegetation. Data are taken from stands of different ages at time of burning in a species-rich Calluna-Arctostaphylos heath in NE Scotland. It is shown that variation in the initial floristic composition of the stands is not, in itself, sufficient to produce model simulations which match observed trends, although altering the probabilities of transition from bare ground to other states allows more successful simulations. The model supports the hypothesis that stand age before burning influences the post-fire development through the process of colonization of bare ground. After a very severe fire post-fire development may initially depend on the formation of a moss cover, although this requires further study. It is concluded that simple Markov models can provide the basis for examining successional processes when used in a comparative way.