Lodgers recall harrowing night after fire breaks out at downtown boarding house

It was a harrowing night at the Brismont Lodge boarding house at 79 North Street, where fire broke out at about 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Yet, a group of men who lived there pulled together and made sure everyone got out, after trying without success to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher.

“It just went up so fast,” said Charles Beliniski, who has lived at the boarding house six months.

The large, historic house sits downtown, across from the Milford duck pond.

The people who lived there until last night said there were eight rooms upstairs, though one was vacant, and four downstairs.

All the renters were single men. They shared a kitchen and seemed to have known each other pretty well, well enough to make sure they all got out.

“The man who lived in the room where the fire started only had one leg,” Belinski said.

The others chuckled when they related their story: “Spider,” whose real name they don’t know, tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher after a smoke alarm alerted them to the blaze.

Failing at that, Spider half carried the occupant of the room outside, while he was yelling at them, “Get my leg, get my leg,” they said.

But the fire was too intense, and they weren’t going back for the prosthetic leg, the men said.

City officials were inspecting the house today after noon, walking through what looked like a severely fire damaged structure. The smell of smoke and charred wood lingered in the air.

Some of the men have moved temporarily to a Milford inn and they expect they won’t be returning to the Brismont Lodge.

Fire Chief Robert Healey said careless smoking was to blame for the fire, which presented challenges to firefighters because of the age of the house and the frigid temperatures Wednesday night.

The house has what is called balloon construction, which means the wall studs run up more than one floor, making it easy for fire to run through an entire building.

Embers from the upstairs room, where the fire started, must have fallen to the lower floor and caused the blaze to spread, the chief said.

At one point, the firefighters had to be backed out of the second floor because the heat and flames were too intense, and they were forced to fight the fire from the outside until they could get back in.

“But our guys did a great job,” Healey said.