Long-running tensions between Invercargill gangs the Road Knights and the Mongrel Mob flared in public yesterday as the Road Knights' building in Balmoral Dr was gutted in a spectacular early morning fire.
Mob members arrived in a taxi and stood watching the fire, chanting and cheering, until police moved them on.
Police are treating the fire as suspicious but investigations have been hampered by the unsafe state of the fire-damaged building.
Later in the day police arrested four men after a standoff at the Mongrel Mob headquarters in Severn St.
The four men have been charged with criminal damage of two motorbikes set on fire at their Severn St gang compound during the afternoon and are to appear in the Invercargill District Court today. Police said they discovered the bikes after going to the compound to talk to gang members about the fire at the Road Knights' headquarters.
All five Invercargill fire crews, involving 26 firefighters, were called out just before 7am to fight the blaze, which swept through the top floor of the Balmoral Dr building.
Fire Service chief fire officer Brendan Nally said firefighters helped a man from the burning building after he was found asleep in a ground-floor bedroom. He was the only person in the house.
The ground floor sustained only minor damage but the top floor of the old building was showing signs of collapse, Mr Nally said.
Senior Sergeant Dave Raines said it had not yet been established where the fire started because of the extensive damage. Police and fire safety officers were investigating and a scene guard would be in place for some time.
Asked about the Mob gang members turning up at the Road Knights' clubhouse fire, Mr Raines said there had always been tension between the two gangs. As part of their inquiries into the fire, police went to the Mob headquarters in Severn St about 3pm. The gang members told them to leave until they had a search warrant, after which smoke began billowing from inside the property, along with shouts of "burn it, burn it" and "kill Harley, kill Harley".
Police set up cordons in Avon Rd and Severn St and evacuated a nearby preschool. The armed offenders squad was called about 5pm and explosive "distraction devices" were fired into the compound.
Fire crews were also called in to put out fires on the property.
Detective John Kean said police did not know who the motorbikes burned at the property belonged to but said he did not believe they were owned by Mob members.
Both the Mongrel Mob and Road Knights gang headquarters remained under police guard last night and scene investigations were to continue today.
The arrests came just days after Invercargill chapter boss Shaun Newton-Te Kahu surrendered firearms and weapons, including a shotgun, AK47, rifles, molotov cocktails and cut-down slug guns, to police.
Mr Newton-Te Kahu, who told The Southland Times last week his members had decided to give up crime and get jobs, said when surrendering the weapons he'd done it to show he was serious about changing the chapter's direction.
The gang, which has a relatively low public presence in Southland, has become more prominent after a police raid on its headquarters early this month.
Police searched a Teviot St house and the Severn St headquarters after city pharmacies reported gang associates trying to buy pseudoephedrine-based products, a key substance used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine, or P.
Mr Newton-Te Kahu went public after the police searches, saying the Invercargill chapter wanted to change direction, work on a better future for its families and move away from its violent past.
- The Southland Times