Greek fire-fighters battled fierce blazes on the island of Chios on Saturday as billowing smoke forced the evacuations of three villages.

Citizens of the village of Lithi find refuge at the beach as a wildfire burns in the mountains on the island of Chios, Greece
Ten water bombers and five helicopters were deployed as 50 fire-fighters and almost 80 army troops worked to contain the wildfire on the eastern island. They also used 17 fire engines and were backed by 40 volunteers.

Fanned by strong winds of up 40 miles per hour, the wildfire started in the early hours of Saturday in the island's south. The evacuation was carried out on the initiative of the villagers because of the heavy smoke that covered the area.

"The fire is close to inhabited areas but for the time being has not posed an immediate threat," a fire department spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Greece is hit by wildfires, many started by arsonists, every summer, the flames fanned by high temperatures and strong winds.

Earlier this month, a wildfire blazing for five days threatened Mount Athos, the world's oldest surviving monastic community and a United Nations World Heritage Site, in northern Greece.

The worst major blazes of recent years hit in 2007 in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece and on the island of Evia, leaving 77 people dead and ravaging 250,000 hectares.