Mitchell Starc sensationally bowled Burns around his legs as Australia’s pacemen ripped through England’s top order with Pat Cummins taking 5-38 on his debut as Test captain.
After England captain Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat, the visitors were bundled out in just 50.1 overs.
Dawid Malan, who scored six, and Root, for a duck, quickly followed Burns as England slumped to 11-3 on a green-looking wicket.
Cummins then removed Ben Stokes for five to leave England struggling on 59 for four at lunch, with opener Haseeb Hameed on 25 alongside Ollie Pope on 17.
In the first over after the interval Hameed edged Cummins to Steve Smith at second slip to leave England teetering at 60-5.
Jos Buttler came out and launched a fightback with a glittering array of attacking shots to put the Australian attack on the back foot for the first time.
However, with the score on 112, Buttler, who had reached 39, feathered a catch to debutant wicketkeeper Alex Carey.
Six runs later, Pope was caught at deep fine leg for 35 to give Cameron Green his first Test wicket.
England’s challenge was all but over, despite some late hitting from Chris Woakes, who was last man out for 21 as Cummins mopped up the tail.
Broad left out
Earlier Root had taken the brave decision to bat in hot, humid, bowler-friendly conditions at the Gabba under overcast skies, a move he may have been rueing over tea.
Brisbane has been experiencing a wet start to the summer, washing out most of the tourists’ scheduled warm-up games.
Having had little chance to become acclimatised to the conditions, England’s top order struggled with the pace and movement of the Australian attack.
The crowd of around 28,000 were barely settled in their seats when Starc clean-bowled Burns behind the left-hander’s legs with a full, swinging delivery that should have been defended.
It was only the second time in Ashes history that a wicket had fallen on the first ball of the series. The only previous victim was England’s Stan Worthington in 1936, also in Brisbane.
Josh Hazlewood had Malan caught by Carey and then the prize scalp of the world’s top-ranked batsman Root, taken at first slip by David Warner without scoring.
Stokes, on his return to action after five months, drove gloriously to the boundary after the first drinks interval.
But soon after Cummins got the ball to lift viciously and the all-rounder could only fend it to Marnus Labuschagne, who dived to his left at third slip to take a good catch.
England, already missing the rested Jimmy Anderson, made the surprising decision to leave out veteran seamer Stuart Broad.
They instead opted for a seam attack of Woakes, Mark Wood and Ollie Robinson, bolstered by Stokes and left-arm spinner Jack Leach.