Community forestry in rural Mexico presents a unique opportunity to study the linkages and feedback within coupled social-ecological systems due to the fact that agrarian or indigenous communities control approximately half of the national territory of Mexico. We used social and ecological diagnostic tools to develop a fire management strategy for a communal forest containing an endemic piñón pine species, Pinus cembroides subs. orizabensis, in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico. The ecological diagnostic was done through fuel inventory, forest structure sampling, and fire behaviour modelling. The social assessment was conducted through household interviews, community workshops, and direct participant observation. The ecological fire hazard was quantified and coupled with the social assessment to develop a fire management plan. Vertical fuel continuity and flashy surface fuels created a high fire hazard. Modelled fire behaviour showed a rapid rate of spread and high flame lengths under multiple scenarios. Relative impunity for starting forest fires, poor community and inter-agency organisation, and lack of project continuity across organisational sectors appear to be the most significant social limiting factors for wildfire management. Combining both social and ecological diagnostic tools provides a comprehensive understanding of the actual risks to forests, and identifies realistic community-supported options for conservation on cooperatively managed lands.