|Spokesman Review, May 23, 1999.
FIRE TESTS TIE-DYE ARTIST AGAIN
By Cynthia Taggart
Arlene Falcon hadn't even mastered all the gadgets on her new- to-her 1987 Ford Taurus wagon when it burned two weeks ago.
Trouble sprouted under the hood five minutes out of St. Maries, where she lives. The acrid smell of burning engine stole her daughter's nose first.
Arlene pulled the car over, lifted the hood and gasped at the ghostly blend of orange flames and dirty smoke hungry to spread.
"We freaked out," she says. "We hailed the first car on the road and screamed for help."
Then, she dove into the car to save her possessions-10 boxes of wildly tie-died T-shirts, dresses, leggings, sweat shirts, and tank tops. She was on her way to an arts and crafts fair in Walla Walla.
As the flames crept over the engine and toward the dashboard, bystanders panicked. They pulled Arlene away from the danger and let police unload her car.
Police retrieved but piled them next to her burning car. Within minutes everything was in flames.
"It was so hard, so painful to have to watch those boxes burn," Arlene says in a rare moment of depression. "There was nothing I could do."
Insurance covered the car, but not the contents. Arlene figures she could have earned $10,000 from the clothes in those boxes. Still she isn't glum.
"I can't dwell on my loss," she says. "What good does it do me to be angry?"
She's obviously learned from the past. This recent disaster is Arlene's third. Fire destroyed her home in 1985 and the tie-dye room in her business in 1995.
A Coeur d'Alene retailer who sells Arlene's wares worries that the latest loss will put her favorite tie-dye artist out of business. Arlene laughs.
"The same week as the fire, I was worried that I was losing money. My wholesale was too low, " she says, "This is my lesson. I'm telling customers I had to raise prices."
The swirling reds, blues and purples that surround Arlene in rainbow brightness every day seem to work on her like good news.
"All I can think is that I'm a survivor," she says cheerfully, "There's life after tragedy."
But even the upbeat Arlene realizes she's struck out in St. Maries.
She's moving kids, home and business to Moscow next month.
The first fire hit her just nine months after she and her family had moved into the log house they built. Arlene was a child of the 1960s, a New Yorker and high school follower of the Greatful Dead.
Before she sank roots into Benewah County, she lived on a kibbutz in Israel, then traveled around the United States in school bus.
Her husband, Mark, Suggested they settle in North Idaho. Like pioneers, they homesteaded near Santa, cut logs and built.
She believes an escaped spark from the woodstove ignited the fire. No one was hurt, but the house was totalled. They were miles from any fire protection and had no insurance.
"It was pretty horrifying," she says.
The community rallied around Arlene's family. Gifts, money and shelter helped them until they could rebuild.
The second fire hit their T-shirt shop in downtown St. Maries four years ago. Arlene and Mark began tie-dying after a Greatful Dead concert in 1987. At first, they worked in their living room and sold their wares at barter fares and concerts.
"Everyone was digging our T-shirts. It was great," Arlene says.
They bought their shop in 1991 and called it Big River Designs. A woman cleaning the building discovered the fire, which was blamed on an electrical problem.
The fire toasted Arlene's tie-dye room and smoke-damaged a front office, but insurance covered the loss.
"After the house fire we got a bigger, better house," Arlene says. "After the shop fire, we got a brand new shop. There's always a silver lining."
Divorce last year prompted Arlene to open her own business. Tye-Dye Everything. She's already decided to move to Moscow, where her 19-year-old twins live, when the latest fire hit. It reinforced her decision to leave.
"This New Yorker has been in Benewah County for 16 years," she says, laughing. "Now I have to rethink the way I do business. There's no insurance money to bail me out."
She'll reopen in a purple mall behind Mikey's Gyros on Moscow's Main Street, and hope for a cooler experience than she had up north.
"I have tie-dyed St. Marie's, Idaho," Arlene says, exhibiting her work-roughened hands as proof. "It's time to move on, I can't wait."