Clifton fixed? Smoke detectors cited in '99 inspection

A 1999 safety inspection of the Clifton Inn– site of a recent pre-dawn fire that killed two guests– found eight code violations resulting from smoke-detectors, or lack thereof.

The report found four rooms with smoke detectors that didn't sound when tested and four other rooms without smoke detectors.

Most of the violations were in public rooms and mechanical rooms. However, two guest rooms– the Honeymoon Cottage and the Keswick Room– were among those that violated smoke-detector code. In addition, the report demanded that Clifton test all its battery-powered smoke detectors and keep a log of such tests.

Whether such log was kept or whether the facility possessed hard-wired smoke detectors could not be ascertained.

"That's a part of the investigation that I'm not able to talk about yet," says county spokesperson Lee Catlin.

The papers, released by the county last week, indicate that Clifton brought the property into full compliance with county requirements by October 12, 1999, two weeks after the initial inspection.

"It was a pro-active effort," says Catlin of the 1999 inspections of lodging facilities. "There was not a legal requirement for going back."

On Friday morning, November 14, after a fire broke out in the living room of the early 19th century structure, two recruiters from the high-profile New York law firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher died of acute carbon monoxide poisoning. Clifton was converted into one of central Virginia's most luxurious inns in 1985.

While no cause of the blaze has yet been identified, authorities, having ruled out electrical wiring, are investigating fireplaces and candles. On the eve of the fire, high winds had cut electricity to many area homes and businesses, including Clifton.

Clifton officials could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Albemarle fire marshal Bob Lowery leads the investigation.