New Fire Suppression System Protecting Monticello

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A new fire suppression system is protecting Thomas Jefferson's Monticello from the threat of a destructive blaze for the very first time.

Monticello Chief Curator Susan Stein points out the small nozzles protruding from the Dome Room's original plaster. The nozzles are part of a state-of-the-art system to stop fires from spreading through Jefferson's home.

"This is just the most modern and technologically advanced way to do it," Stein said.

Marioff's HI-FOG system replaces a sprinkler system installed in the 1950s that offered limited coverage.  Monticello's main floor went unprotected from fires until now.

"We had been thinking about improvements for some time, and we really waited for the technology to advance," said Stein.

Monticello's protectors feared fire sprinkler systems would flood Monticello's rooms and destroy the third president's personal belongings.  HI-FOG uses up to 90 percent less water. Its high-velocity mist cools spaces, blocks radiant heat, and reduces oxygen to minimize damage from putting out the flames.

"It's much more sensitive, much more gentle, would detect a fire much earlier and be able to completely eradicate the fire with this gentle mist," said Stein.

Monticello's preservation team worked with HI-FOG's crews to install the system without destroying the home's original features.  Even the pipes pumping the mist from tanks in the basement blend in.

Stein says Jefferson took the threat of fire seriously after a blaze destroyed his Shadwell house in 1770. In the spring of 1819, a Monticello slave covered the terrace with snow from the ice house to prevent a fire on the North Pavilion's roof from spreading to the main house.

"Although we don't like to speak for Jefferson, I think with Jefferson's interest in advanced technology, this would probably be very interesting to him," Stein said of the HI-FOG system.

Crews from the Marioff company worked odd hours and overnights to install the system without interrupting Monticello's nonstop stream of daily tours.  Many large hotels use the HI-FOG system.

In Charlottesville, the system also protects the University of Virginia's historic Garrett Hall.  Marioff has also installed the HI-FOG system at James Madison's Montpelier, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and the Teatro alla Scala opera house in Venice.