ST. ALBERT, Ont. -- A cheese factory east of Ottawa known for its poutine-topping curds has been gutted by a fire that broke out this morning.

Police and fire officials raced to a blaze at the St. Albert Cheese Factory in the village of St. Albert around 9:45 a.m.

Crews from several nearby fire departments are on hand to battle the fire at the century-old dairy plant, which is an important part of the small community's cultural heritage.

Police have evacuated more than a dozen homes south of the fire scene over concerns that chemicals in the factory may pollute the air.

Investigators say no one was in the factory when it caught fire.

There's no word on what sparked the flames or the estimated cost of the damage.

A worker at the factory who gave his name only as Bruce said the fire hits the local economy hard.

"Most of the people work at the cheese factory. But we'll just have to see what direction the bosses will take," he told

The factory is co-owned by some 50 producers and employs upwards of 60 people who work on its line of cheddars, curds and other dairy delicacies.

It was founded in 1894 and its products are available at stores across Canada.