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Asbestos fears have been raised after a bushfire ravaged old train carriages at a historical railway museum in the Hunter Valley.
The Richmond Vale Rail Museum was in the path of a devastating fire near Cessnock yesterday.
The scale of the damage was realised at first light today, when emotional volunteers gathered at the site to survey damage.
Director Graham Smith said there were now asbestos fears, with the substance dropping out of some carriages, prompting Fire and Rescue NSW to declare it a hazardous material site.
"And until they clear the site neither our members nor members of the public will be admitted," he said.
Mr Smith said the damage was worse than first thought and described it as utter devastation.
"We have lost about 80 per cent of our rolling collection, including restored coal hoppers, unrestored freight vehicles," he said.
Hope amid the ruinsBut amid the devastation there was some optimism, with prized refurbished carriages protected from the blaze.
"Fortunately our restored locomotives are safe and the carriages that we have been using most recently for train services are still in operation," Mr Smith said.
"But we have also lost two and a half kilometres of track and a bridge has been damaged, which means even if the site is cleared to be reopened we won't be able to run trains for some considerable time.
"There has been minor damage to the carriage shed and the grounds are scorched."
Blaze takes emotional toll on volunteersDuring the fire, some volunteers were forced to take refuge in buildings as it roared through the site.
Mr Smith said a day after the emergency, his team was doing it tough.
"Some of our veteran members are not travelling very well at all, " he said.
"They are very emotional about what's been lost and they want to get stuck in and start restoring the track now.
Inferno blamed on torched carA burnt out car has been blamed for the devastating bushfire.
The ABC has been told a group of birdwatchers called triple zero after they came across a car on fire, amid temperatures in the mid-30s.
Rural Fire Service inspector Ben Shepherd said the car appeared to be the cause.
"Whilst the Rural Fire Service investigation is underway, our initial assessment of that scene is that fire started as a result of a burnt vehicle," he said.
Mr Shepherd said it was outrageous to think a car fire was to blame.
"To do that sort of thing close to bushland anytime is dangerous, but to do it leading into a day of severe fire danger is just reckless in the extreme," he said.
"If anyone does have information please contact Crime Stoppers."
Fire and police investigators have spent the day combing the fire ground, covering more than 900 hectares.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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