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Sarah M. McCaffrey

Sarah McCaffrey

Research Forester

240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098
Contact Sarah M. McCaffrey

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.

Research Interests

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.

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.

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


    Outstanding Editor Award. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 2017

    Featured Publications


    Huber‑Stearns, Heidi R.; Santo, Anna R.; Schultz, Courtney A.; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2021. Network governance in the use of prescribed fire: Roles for bridging organizations and other actors in the western United States
    Walpole, Hugh; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Rapp, Claire; Wilson, Robyn, 2021. Operationalising homeowner wildfire risk mitigation in fire-prone areas
    Tedim, Fantina; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Leone, Vittorio; Vazquez-Varela, Carmen; Depietri, Yaella; Buergelt, Petra; Lovreglio, Raffaella, 2021. Supporting a shift in wildfire management from fighting fires to thriving with fires: The need for translational wildfire science
    Young, Jesse; Evans, Alexander M.; Iniguez, Jose; Thode, Andrea; Meyer, Marc D.; Hedwall, Shaula J.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Shin, Patrick; Huang, Ching-Hsun, 2020. Effects of policy change on wildland fire management strategies: Evidence for a paradigm shift in the western US?
    Walpole, Hugh D.; Wilson, Robyn S.; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2020. If you love it, let it go: The role of home attachment in wildfire evacuation decisions
    Hiers, J. Kevin; O’Brien, Joseph J.; Varner, J. Morgan; Butler, Bret W.; Dickinson, Matthew; Furman, James; Gallagher, Michael; Godwin, David; Goodrick, Scott L.; Hood, Sharon M.; Hudak, Andrew T.; Kobziar, Leda N.; Linn, Rodman; Loudermilk, E. Louise; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Robertson, Kevin; Rowell, Eric M.; Skowronski, Nicholas; Watts, Adam C.; Yedinak, Kara M., 2020. Prescribed fire science: the case for a refined research agenda
    McGee, Tara K.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Tedim, Fantina, 2020. Resident and community recovery after wildfires [Chapter 9]
    McCaffrey, Sarah M.; McGee, Tara K.; Coughlan, Michael; Tedim, Fantina, 2020. Understanding wildfire mitigation and preparedness in the context of extreme wildfires and disasters [Chapter 8]
    Tedim, Fantina; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Leone, Vittorio; Delogu, Giuseppe Mariano; Castelnou, Marc; McGee, Tara K.; Aranha, Jose, 2020. What can we do differently about the extreme wildfire problem: An overview [Chapter 13]
    Schultz, Courtney A.; Thompson, Matthew P.; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2019. Forest Service fire management and the elusiveness of change
    Schultz, Courtney A.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Huber-Stearns, Heidi R., 2019. Policy barriers and opportunities for prescribed fire application in the western United States
    Tedim, Fantina; Leone, Vittorio; Amraoui, Malik; Bouillon, Christophe; Coughlan, Michael R.; Delogu, Giuseppe M.; Fernandes, Paulo M.; Ferreira, Carmen; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; McGee, Tara K.; Parente, Joana; Paton, Douglas; Pereira, Mario G.; Ribeiro, Luís M.; Viegas, Domingos X.; Xanthopoulos, Gavriil, 2018. Defining extreme wildfire events: Difficulties, challenges, and impacts
    McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Duffner, Guy L.; Decker, Lynn M., 2018. Social dynamics of wildland fire in California [Chapter 27]
    Wilson, Robyn S.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Toman, Eric., 2017. Wildfire communication and climate risk mitigation
    Steelman, Toddi A.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Velez, Anne-Lise Knox; Briefel, Jason Alexander, 2015. What information do people use, trust, and find useful during a disaster? Evidence from five large wildfires
    Toman, Eric; Hix, David M.; Goebel, P. Charles; Gehrt, Stanley D.; Wilson, Robyn S.; Sherry, Jennifer A.; Silvis, Alexander; Nyamai, Priscilla; Williams, Roger A.; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2014. Hazardous fuels management in mixed red pine and eastern white pine forest in the northern Lake States: A synthesis of knowledge
    Stidham, Melanie; Olsen, Christine; Toman, Eric; Frederick, Stacey; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Shindler, Bruce, 2014. Longitudinal Social Science Research in Natural Resource Communities: Lessons and Considerations
    Toman, Eric; Shindler, Bruce; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Bennett, James, 2014. Public acceptance of wildland fire and fuel management: Panel responses in seven locations
    Steelman, Toddi A.; Nowell, Branda; Bayoumi, Deena; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2014. Understanding information exchange during disaster response: Methodological insights from infocentric analysis
    Toman, Eric; Stidham, Melanie; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Shindler, Bruce, 2013. Social science at the wildland-urban interface: a compendium of research results to create fire-adapted communities
    Vogt, Christine; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Winter, Greg., 2010. What parts of a house and yard landscape are homeowners maintaining for wildfire safety?
    Black, Anne E.; Gebert, Krista; McCaffrey, Sarah; Steelman, Toddi; Canton-Thompson, Janie, 2009. A multi-disciplinary approach to fire management strategy, suppression costs, community interaction, and organizational performance
    Kwon, Jeamok; Vogt, Christine; Winter, Greg; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2008. Forest fuels treatments for wildlife management: do local recreation users agree?
    Toman, Eric L.; Shindler, Bruce; Absher, Jim; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2008. Postfire communications: the influence of site visits on local support.
    Liou, Gwo-Bao; Vogt, Christine; Winter, Greg; McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2008. Residents' values and fuels management approaches
    González-Cabán, Armando; Haynes, Richard W.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Mercer, Evan; Watson, Alan E., 2007. Fire social science research–selected highlights.
    Graham, Russell T.; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Jain, Terrie B., 2004. Science basis for changing forest structure to modify wildfire behavior and severity
    Kent, Brian; Gebert, Krista; McCaffrey, Sarah M.; Martin, Wade; Calkin, David; Schuster, Ervin; Martin, Ingrid; Bender, Holly Wise; Alward, Greg; Kumagai, Yoshitaka; Cohn, Patricia J.; Carroll, Matt; Williams, Dan; Ekarius, Carol, 2004. Social and economic issues of the Hayman Fire
    McCaffrey, Sarah M., 2004. Thinking of Wildfire as a Natural Hazard
    Kent, Brian; Gebert, Krista; McCaffrey, Sarah; Martin, Wade; Calkin, David; Schuster, Ervin; Martin, Ingrid; Bender, Holly Wise; Alward, Greg; Kumagai, Yoshitaka; Cohn, Patricia J.; Carroll, Matt; Williams, Daniel R.; Ekarius, Carol, 2003. Social and economic issues of the Hayman Fire
    A fire burning in a forest with a large smoke plume above the flames.
    Prescribed fire is an important tool for increasing the resilience of fire-dependent ecosystems and for reducing overall wildfire risk, but it is not being applied at the necessary or desired levels. We investigated barriers and strategies for facilitating prescribed fire application on USFS and BLM lands across the western United States.
    graphic of the rose chart used to visually display generalized model inputs and results of COVID19 risk on a specific incident
    Trust is an essential element in building and maintaining successful partnerships with stakeholders and community members. Findings indicate that managers hoping to build, maintain, or restore trust with communities therefore may want to focus on active communication, and demonstrating competence and how actions are in the best interest of the community.
    Wildfire burn near a housing development
    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. Homeowners in three communities that have experienced wildfires in the United States were surveyed regarding their responses to evacuation requests.
    RMRS scientists and staff have started an intensive project with the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest, along with other cooperators such as Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, to develop a comprehensive plan for fire management on the forest. This project will rely on the Cohesive Strategy framework and will bring in many cooperators.

    National Strategic Program Areas: 
    Wildland Fire and Fuels
    National Priority Research Areas: 
    Forest Disturbances
    RMRS Science Program Areas: 
    Fire, Fuel and Smoke; Human Dimensions