Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Amanda Villa received the agency’s highest award, the Medal of Valor on Monday, after rescuing several firefighters from a downed helicopter during the Deep Creek Canyon fire near Townsend.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen described the heroic rescue.

“On June 15, Trooper Villa was in Broadwater County, helping with roadblocks for the Deep Creek Canyon fire,” said Knudsen. “As she was turning her vehicle around, a Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helicopter landed hard and tipped over from the strong winds on the fire. Without hesitation, and if you've seen the video you know what I'm talking about, without hesitation, Trooper Villa leapt out of her squad car, radioed for help, and ran toward the helicopter that by now had caught fire.”

Once Villa got to the downed chopper, she discovered more people trapped inside.

“The passenger who had climbed out informed Trooper Villa that four more passengers were still inside the wrecked chopper, and without regard for her own personal safety, she climbed underneath the chopper and help the four remaining passengers to safety,” he said.

Knudsen said without Trooper Villa’s heroic actions, the firefighters could have perished in the burning helicopter.

“Without Trooper Villa’s quick thinking and selfless actions, the outcome could have been much, much different,” he said. “What Trooper Villa did that day is truly remarkable. If you haven't seen the video footage from her dash cam I highly encourage you to find it on our Department of Justice website. You will see what heroism really looks like.”

Knudsen used the opportunity to reach out to all Montanans to urge them to be careful with fire, since over 75 percent of all the wildfires burning in Montana are human caused.

“We're all grateful that Trooper Villa was there that day, but I think she would be the first to tell you that she wishes she hadn't needed to be there,” he said. “The cause of the Deep Creek Canyon fire is still under investigation. But we do know there have been more than 500 fires started this month alone, and more than 75% of them were human caused. These fires are preventable. And as we saw clearly on June 15, they put lives of our first responders at risk.”

Also presenting the award to Trooper Villa in Helena on Monday was Montana Highway Patrol Commander Steve Lavin.

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