Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Sarah M. McCaffrey

Sarah M. McCaffrey
Research Forester
Human Dimensions
240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098
United States
Current Research
Her current research focuses on broader social pieces of the fire management system including how stakeholders conceive of becoming a fire adapted community and barriers to increased use of fire as a management tool,  both prescribed fire and managing wildfires for resource benefits.  She has also begun work with a colleague to assess how social media can provide insight into various aspects of fire management, including whether tweets related to wildfire smoke can serve as reasonable proxy for air quality and how media portrayal of fire management varies  overtime and between coutnires (US, Canada and Australia).

Madsen, Rachel S.; Haynes, Hylton J. G.; McCaffrey, Sarah M. 2018. Wildfire risk reduction in the United States: Leadership staff perceptions of local fire department roles and responsibilities. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. 27: 451-458.

Sachdeva, Sonja; McCaffrey, Sarah. 2018. Using social media to predict air pollution during California wildfires. In: Proceedings of the international conference on social media and society; 2018 July 18-20; Copenhagen, Denmark. SM Society. 5 p.
Past Research
Past research has included projects examining wildfire risk perception, incentives for creation and maintenance of defensible space, social acceptability of prescribed fire and thinning, and characteristics of effective communication efforts.  She hasalso initiated work examining social issues that occur during and after fires including evacuation decision making, agency-community interaction during fires, and long-term health impacts of experiencing a fire.   This has included work interviewing emergency responders and residents after wildfires in the U.S. as well as work in Australia where I assisted the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre with their post-fire data collection following the February 7th 2009 bushfires. Her PhD research examined homeowner beliefs and actions in relation to defensible space and fuels management in Incline Village, Nevada.  

McCaffrey, Sarah; Wilson, Robyn; Konar, Avishek. 2017. Should I stay or should I go now? Or should I wait and see? Influences on wildfire evacuation decisions. Risk Analysis. doi: 10.1111/risa.12944.

McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Olsen, Christine S. 2012. Research perspectives on the public and fire management: a synthesis of current social science on eight essential questions. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-104. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 40 p.

McCaffrey, Sarah; Stidham, Melanie; Toman, Eric; Shindler, Bruce. 2011. Outreach programs, peer pressure, and common sense: What motivates homeowners to mitigate wildfire risk. Environmental Management. 48(3): 475-488.
Research Interest

Dr. McCaffrey's research focuses on understanding a wide range of the social aspects of fire management.   A particular emphasis of her research is working with managers to: 1)  identify areas where existing research could provide insight as well as where more research is needed, and 2) synthesizing and communicating relevant research findings.

Why This Research Is Important
Social dynamics are a critical part of fire management. No matter how ecologically and technically sound and well planned a management activity, its ultimate effectiveness will be highly dependant on social factors related to the effort including acceptance of the activity and its potential effect on a range of social values.  As the societal impacts of wildfires grow, the active involvement of all stakeholders in fire management will be central to successful efforts to reduce the risk. Understanding relevant beliefs and expectations, of the landscape and of land management agencies, will be crucial information for managers in developing effective plans to mitigate the fire risk . In addition, understanding how internal organizational factors interact with the external social factors will be critical to improving outcomes.  Dr. McCaffrey's research helps clarify the reality behind much of the conventional wisdom about social dynamics in relation to fire and fuels management and what shapes those beliefs and actions:  a clear and accurate conception of social dynamics can help ensure that management efforts are targeted on activities more likely to improve future outcomes.
  • University Of California--Berkeley, Ph.D., Wildland Resource Science, 2002
  • University Of California--Berkeley, M.S., Wildland Resource Science, 1995
  • Stanford University, B.A., International Relations, 1986
Professional Organizations
  • International Association of Wildland Fire,  Current
Awards & Recognition
  • Outstanding Editor Award. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 2017
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Understanding Community Trust in Wildfire Management Agencies

Year: 2020
Trust is an essential element in building and maintaining successful partnerships with stakeholders and community members. Managers hoping to build, maintain, or restore trust with communities may want to focus on active communication, demonstrating competence, and showing how actions are in the bes...

Stay or leave? How homeowners consider their options during wildfires.

Year: 2018
Wildfires are intensifying due to climate change, and more people are living in regions prone to fire. Understanding how individuals threatened by a wildfire make evacuation decisions – especially those who do not leave promptly – is necessary in order to foster public safety.

Using Tweets to Model Wildfire Smoke

Year: 2016
Forest Service scientists and their partners found that crowdsourced data collected from Twitter can be used to accurately predict air quality impacts from wildfire smoke.

Psychological Impacts of Experiencing a Wildfire

Year: 2015
New research by Forest Service scientists is examining how wildfire impacts to the landscape affect the post-fire psychological health of people living nearby. The findings suggest that landscapes that are dramatically changed by a wildfire may lose their value as a source of stress relief or solace...

Identifying Policy Tools That Encourage Community-Level Defensible Space in Six U.S. Communities

Year: 2014
A Forest Service scientist and partners assessed outreach programs in six different communities and identified outreach tools that were effective in encouraging defensible space. Community members and agency personnel who are seeking to engage residents to reduce individual and collective wildfire r...

Improving Knowledge of Public Information Needs During a Wildfire

Year: 2013
Although fire managers actively work to provide information to the public during wildfires, little research has been conducted to understand whether this information fulfills public needs. Research by a Forest Service scientists shows the importance of up-to-date, locally-specific information that h...

What Motivates Homeowners To Mitigate Fire Risk

Year: 2011
In working to foster fire-adapted communities, individuals and organization need to understand the dynamics of public support for fuels management on private and public land. A Forest Service research study on homeowner support for defensible space, thinning, and prescribed fire found that that most...

Impediments to Woody Biomass Utilization on Federal Lands

Year: 2011
Efforts to increase woody biomass utilization have met with limited succes