A firefighting plane battling a forest fire near the southern French commune of Generac crashed on Friday, killing its pilot, local authorities said.

The accident occurred at 5:20 p.m. local time as more than 500 firefighters and police officers were fighting three separate fires in the Gard department of France.

Read more: EU sets up fleet to combat forest fires

“A Civil Security tracker pilot tragically lost his life while bravely fighting an ongoing fire,” Gard’s police department said in a statement. “A judicial inquiry is underway under the authority of the public prosecutor who has visited the site.”

The blaze has destroyed nearly 800 hectares (1,980 acres) of forest, heathland and vineyards in the area around Generac since Tuesday. Authorities were battling three separate fires on Friday near the small communes of Vauvert, Generac and Montignargues.

Regional prosecutor Eric Maurel said the fire may have been started deliberately.

The tracker plane is the smallest aircraft to fight forest fires, with the ability to carry up to 3,600 liters (9,511 gallons) of water.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner both took to Twitter to express their condolences.

Philippe said he felt “deep emotion” for the pilot’s death. “All my support for the pilots of the [Civil Security], to all those who fight against fire, and to their families,” he wrote.

Castaner expressed “great sadness” and said his “first thoughts go to the family and comrades of this firefighter, committed to protecting us with infinite bravery.”

dv/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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