Recent wildfire activity in semi-arid regions like western North America exceeds the range of historical records. High-resolution paleoclimate archives such as stalagmites could illuminate the link between hydroclimate, vegetation change, and fire activity in pre-anthropogenic climate states beyond the timescale of existing tree-ring records. Here we present an analysis of levoglucosan, a combustion-sensitive anhydrosugar, and lignin oxidation products (LOPs) in a stalagmite, reconstructing fire activity and vegetation composition in the California Coast Range across the 8.2 kyr event. Elevated levoglucosan concentrations suggest increased fire activity while altered LOP compositions indicate a shift toward more woody vegetation during the event. These changes are concurrent with increased hydroclimate volatility as shown by carbon and calcium isotope proxies. Together, these records suggest that climate whiplash (oscillations between extreme wetness and aridity) and fire activity in California, both projected to increase with anthropogenic climate change, were tightly coupled during the early Holocene.