WWU aviation professors fight fires in the PNW

Two Walla Walla University professors, Matthew Toelke and Philip Glendrange, spent this summer spotting and fighting forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. 

Toelke, assistant professor of technology, worked as an air attack pilot, coordinating aerial and ground support as well as traffic control for the fire environment. This included assessing fires and ordering the necessary resources for controlling and stopping those fires. He primarily worked within the state of Washington, however some of his work did include flying into neighboring states. 

Glendrange, assistant professor of aviation, was located in La Grande, Oregon, where he worked as an aerial spotter for Butler Aircraft Company assisting the U.S. Forest Service in the Oregon Department of Forestry. “I piloted a Cessna 206 aircraft carrying an Oregon Department of Forestry employee who looked for new fires ignited from the lightning of passing thunderstorms,” explains Glendrange. 

Toelke has been helping fight fires for the past 10 summers, while Glendrange has been on the job for three summers. “When I began work at Walla Walla University,” said Glendrange, “Matthew Toelke had already started doing aerial firefighting and he recommended I also apply for a job during the summer months. This helps Matthew and I continue our professional development as aviation faculty at WWU.”

One of the most noteworthy fires that Toelke helped fight this summer was the Cold Springs and Pearl Hill fire. “It was a fast moving, wind driven fire that was threatening farms and houses. While it did burn down a few homes, we were able to prevent many [others] from burning. We were also able to stop the fire from burning into a large power station. It is especially rewarding when you see that your efforts are helping people keep their homes and livestock.”

Follow the WWU aviation program on Instagram @wwuaviation, and learn more about taking off with aviation at WWU at

Posted Oct. 13, 2020 

An aerial view of smoke billowing from a forest fire.
Professors Matthew Toelke and Philip Glendrange spend their summers fighting forest fires.
Professional portrait of Matthew Toelke wearing a blue shirt.
Matthew Toelke, assistant professor of technology.
Professional portrait of Philip Glendrange dressed in his pilot uniform.
Philip Glendrange, assistant professor of aviation.