At least five neighbouring towns were called in as back up to the local fire department fighting a massive blaze that torched the historic St. Albert Cheese Factory just south of Casselman, about 45 minutes southeast of Ottawa.

“It's the heart of the community, the festival and everything, everybody you meet here…you eat cheese here, you do everything here so what now?” said Lyne Cuerrier who works at the factory.

Ontario Provincial Police say the fire broke out just before 10 a.m.

“It has been a family tradition for many generations and to see it go up in flames kind of breaks my heart,” said Jasmin Benoit.

Officials with the Casselman fire department said part of the factory collapsed. No injuries were reported.

“It's a nightmare, we never expected that,” said general manager Eric Lafontaine. “It's sad but there's nothing we can do right now.”

“There are lots of families working there too. It’s hard, it's hard for us,” said Rachel Savage.

Firefighters on scene told CTV News they were concerned about propane tanks and other toxic chemicals.

Many people who live near the factory left their homes voluntarily.

There's no word yet on what sparked the flames or how much damage they caused.

Many people at the scene Sunday said they want to see the factory rebuilt because it is such a staple in the community.

“We have to go through it but tomorrow's another day,” said Gerald Benoit

The dairy plant is co-owned by some 50 producers and employs around 100 people who work on its line of cheddars, curds and other cheeses.

St. Albert Cheese Factory was founded in 1894 and its products are available at stores across Canada.

With files from CTV Ottawa's Stefan Keyes and Katie Griffin