Drone spotted over Alexandria fire

5:11 PM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WUSA9) -- As firefighters battled a six-alarm warehouse fire in Alexandria on Monday, there was something hovering over them and they didn't even know it.  

According to a report by the Washington Times, one witness says he saw a small drone rise up into the sky a few hundred feet away from the fire and hover for a few minutes.  But when WUSA 9 asked Chief Fire Marshall Robert Rodriguez for the Alexandria Fire Department what the drone was doing there or who it belonged to, he said, "I haven't a clue."
Just last week, fire officials in California used a drone to monitor the wildfire around Yosemite National Park.  But in this case, all three of the departments that responded say the drone was not theirs.  

"The only aircraft that we used during the fire on Labor Day was the Fairfax County Police helicopter.  So that's basically all we know," said Rodriguez.  "We don't have any kind of specialized remote controlled aircraft in the region.  None of our regional partners have it."

A law passed a few months in Virginia put a temporary moratorium on the use of drones by government agencies.  But for private citizens, it's perfectly legal.  According to the FAA, anyone is allowed to operate a small drone provided it stays:

within the operator's sight
below 400 feet
at least three miles away from airports
a sufficient distance from populated areas 

Last month, a similar drone injured several people when it crashed into the grandstands during the Running of the Bulls in Richmond.  But FAA spokesman Les Dorr say, "Our experience has been that most hobbyists are very conscientious about operating according to these rules."

Dorr says the FAA will not launch an investigation to find the operator of the drone over the Alexandria fire.  

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