Bob Renning, 52, of Woodbury was driving with his girlfriend on Interstate 35W in New Brighton Sunday evening when he noticed the vehicle driving behind him was on fire.
Renning told the Star Tribune that he stopped about 200 feet in front of the SUV as it pulled over. Renning said he sprinted to the car as he saw flames and smoke "rolling around" the SUV. His girlfriend called 911.
When Renning reached the SUV, the flames had intensified and the interior was filled with smoke. He couldn't see anyone inside. He pulled on the door handle, but it wouldn't open. He then spotted Michael Johannes frantically pounding and kicking against the passenger-side window.
Johannes couldn't open the door after the locks and power windows failed.
Renning, who said he is not especially fit, gripped the top of the door frame with his fingertips, braced his foot against the door and pulled. The door then bent in half and the glass shattered, the Minnesota State Patrol said.
Renning, a member of the Air National Guard, said he doesn't know how he pried the door open.
State Trooper Zachary Hill, who was quickly on the scene, said Renning displayed "superhuman strength" in the rescue.
"I don't think I could take a crowbar and fold the door like he did," Hill said.
Johannes said he had no idea someone was trying to rescue him. He said he was holding his breath and believed he was going to die.
"Thirty seconds later and I would have been done," said Johannes, who was treated for a cut to his head and smoke inhalation.