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Mysterious drone over Alexandria fire wasn't fire department's

Thursday - 9/5/2013, 7:49am  ET

drone over alexandria warehouse fire (Courtesy of Robert Rapanut)
Here's the drone Robert Rapanut saw over the Alexandria fire. (Courtesy of Robert Rapanut)

WASHINGTON - A drone flew over the scene of a major fire this week in Alexandria, but no one seems to know to whom it belongs.

The Alexandria Fire Department says the drone doesn't belong to it or any other department that battled a six-alarm warehouse fire Monday.

Alexandria resident Robert Rapanut tells The Washington Times he saw the drone over the warehouse in the 800 block of South Pickett Street and took a picture of it. He says it hovered over the nearby Red Lobster.

Virginia has a temporary moratorium on government use of drones, except in cases where lives may be at risk.

The drone may have been privately owned.

If it was a private drone spotted above the warehouse fire, it wouldn't be surprising.

While people tend to think of drones being flown by the military, law enforcement and scientific community, more and more drones are in the hands of hobbyists.

They come in different shapes and sizes. X-shaped quadcopters are relatively popular drones.

They range in price from under $20 to more than $2,000. Hobbyists like to equip them with small cameras.

But according to the Federal Aviation Administration, it is illegal to fly them in the immediate D.C. area because of post 9/11 flight restrictions. FAA spokesman Laura Brown says hobby aircraft, including remote-piloted planes and drones, are banned from the skies within 16.5 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Brown says the hobby aircraft have been restricted at the request of the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.

Outside the restricted area, quadcopters and other private drones may not be flown higher than 400 feet from the ground and are not to be flown in populated areas.

This story has been modified from an earlier version. The FAA incorrectly described drone restrictions that are in place in the District.

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WTOP's Dick Uliano contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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