"Everything lined up perfectly — the right people, the right time — because the outcome could've been 110 percent different," says Holly McNally
Holly McNally
Credit: Courtesy Holly McNally

An Indiana new mother of four is being praised as a hero after she willingly ran toward a fiery truck crash and risked her life to help save the driver who was seconds away from being killed in an explosion.

Despite welcoming a newborn earlier this week, Holly McNally tells PEOPLE she didn’t think twice about helping the man who was covered in flames after his truck that was carrying jet fuel overturned on a highway near Indianapolis on Thursday.

“It’s human nature to not run towards danger,” she explains. “But for me, it was the opposite. I was like, ‘I brought a life into this world, and I get to go home and see my baby and this man could be somebody’s dad or somebody’s child and I want him to make it home to his baby too.”

The terrifying incident unfolded just before 2 p.m. on I-465 South’s ramp heading towards I-70 East, according to the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD).

The truck was carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel when it collided with a guardrail, overturned on the road, burst into flames, and eventually exploded several times, the IFD said.

McNally, 35, says she was on her way back from the hospital, after visiting her newborn son Connor in the NICU with her mother, when she spotted the fiery accident.

“I pulled over on the side of the road,” she recalls. “I see people videotaping and watching what is going on, so I knew something big was happening, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Once she got out of her car, McNally says she saw “a semi-tanker just engulfed in smoke” and “a man running out of the smoke, covered in flames. Head on fire, hands on fire.”

It was that traumatizing sight that the Indiana mother says prompted her to take action.

“I look at my mom and I said, ‘I’m going over there because nobody else is doing anything,'” she recalls. “And [my mom] said, she looked over to tell me ‘don’t run’ and I was gone.”

fuel tanker crash
The truck overturned
| Credit: IFD News/Twitter

McNally notes that she “managed to run what seemed like a mile” — her feet and legs covering in jet fuel — before reaching the driver who told her his name was Jeff.

“I asked him what he was hauling and he told me jet fuel and I was like, ‘Honey, we’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got a newborn that I want to get home to and I’m sure you have family that you want to get home to,'” she tells PEOPLE.

“His skin was dripping, he had no hair, his lips were gone,” she continues. “And I just told him, ‘It’s okay, you’re alive, you’re breathing … you’re gonna be okay.'”

At that time, another good samaritan — identified as 50-year-old Mitch Navarre by NBC affiliate WTHR — also showed up to help rescue the driver, bringing along a jacket that they quickly used to put out the flames on Jeff’s body.

Then it was time for the trio to flee. With McNally on Jeff’s left and Navarre on Jeff’s right, the mother of four told the outlet that they worked together to “carry him down” the ramp as burning fuel followed them.

“It was getting closer and closer,” she recalled to WTHR, who was the first to confirm McNally’s identity.

Holly McNally
Holly McNally with her daughter
| Credit: Courtesy Holly McNally
Holly McNally
Holly McNally with her kids
| Credit: Courtesy Holly McNally

Within 30 to 45 seconds of their escape, McNally says the exact location that they had been standing in to rescue Jeff was soon hit by a second explosion of flames.

“It was that quick, between being here and not making it home to my babies,” she recalls.

Luckily, they just narrowly missed what could have been a fatal incident and were able to get Jeff to safety and into the care of first responders. He was eventually transported to Eskenazi Hospital, according to WTHR, and McNally says she has been kept updated on his condition by authorities.

Though it would’ve been easy to quit as things became more intense, McNally says it never once crossed her mind.

“I was like, ‘When is the time that I stop?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, Holly, there is no time to stop.’ You don’t give up,” she recalls. “You don’t run away and leave this man here. You don’t do that. That’s inhumane to me.”

“Don’t get me wrong though, I was scared,” McNally admits. “I remember saying, ‘If I go to heaven, at least I’ll go over doing a good deed.’ I’m hoping my children are taken care of. That’s what kept me going, getting back to my kids. That was my driving force.”

The motivation to get home to her family was perhaps even stronger as three days prior to her incredible rescue, McNally had given birth to her fourth child at 1:26 a.m. Similar to Thursday’s events, the delivery was also filled with excitement.

Holly McNally
Baby Connor
| Credit: Courtesy Holly McNally

“He came 26 minutes after my water broke,” she explains. “The doctor was on his way to the hospital and the emergency room doctor did not make it to my room in time, so it was just me and a nurse.”

“My mother watched me put my hands down there and pull little man out and lay him on the belly,” she says, adding that her son is now being treated in the NICU for some blood that showed up in his brain on a scan, but that they’re hoping he’ll be home on Monday.

As she sits back to reflect on her whirlwind week, McNally — who also has a 15-year-old, 11-year-old and an 8-year-old — tells PEOPLE she credits the right circumstances and her experience as a mother for getting her through this challenging time.

“Being a mother you have instincts and it was one of those things where it was like if I don’t stay calm and I don’t take charge and don’t hustle, we’re not gonna make it out,” she says. “I didn’t want that for any of us.”

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“It could’ve ended so differently,” she continues. “Everything lined up perfectly — the right people, the right time — because the outcome could’ve been 110 percent different.”

She also hopes her story will inspire others to do acts of kindness — though maybe not as extreme — to make the world a better place.

“Everybody should help each other out and we should be there for other people, even if it’s doing something little like giving someone a dime that they’re short,” McNally says. “Kindness goes a long way. … It doesn’t have to be saving somebody’s life, but anything that you can do for someone to help them in any way, make sure you do it.”