Background to February 4, 2023 Fire
in the Clinic Building

Report by Dottie Atwater


On February 4, 2023, Carla Black, Estela Ritter, and Carla Black's electrician caused a devastating fire in the clinic building. They were solely responsible for the fire, no matter how much "disinformation" Carla tries to spin.

Some of Carla's statements about the fire are complete fabrications. Others are carefully worded attempts to shade the truth. All are intend to disclaim sole responsibility by her and her group for the fire and resulting damage to my belongings within the building. WhatsApp messages between Carla Black and myself reveal the truth: Click HERE.

After the fire, Carla and her group worked only INSIDE the clinic building. They did nothing for me. Despite Carla's promises to the contrary, I had to move all the furniture and supplies from my clinic building to my house and then spend hours of work cleaning the terrible black soot off everything.

Francia Pinedo was my long-term registrar. I was very traumatized by the fire, but on February 7, three days after the fire, I sent Francia Pinedo this message on WhatsApp:

"The fire caused by Carla's group completely destroyed the clinic. Can you quickly find a temporary location to have the clinic on February 19, or even better, a new permanent location provided by the city? Quick! Please help ". And I sent France the photo album of the damage:

For a long time I was so busy, depressed and traumatized that I did not realize that Francia Pinedo had never responded to my plea. The amount of work I was faced with seemed insurmountable. I announced that I could not continue with the clinics.

But, after a while, I reconsidered my decision. Without my clinics, I was missing a big reason to get up in the mornings.

But I had a big surprise! I discovered that Francia Pinedo and "a group" had hijacked my clinics, even calling their clinics "Spay Panama-Chriqui." Even stating on Facebook that "Spay Panama-Chiriqui" was "under new management" to intentionally mislead the community. This "group" had intentionally excluded me in their effort to obscure my 17 years of service to the animals and the community.

Two months after the fire, Francia Pinedo and this "new group" had obtained via donations all the furniture, equipment and supplies to have a clinic on April 16th. They had not asked me for any help or had not asked if I would contribute or sell any of my thousands of dollars of clinic belongings that I had bought from my own pocket... because donations for my clinics had been minimal. Indeed, this "new group" had kept the knowledge about these "new clinics" from me as long as possible.

Details of the devastating fire in the clinic building caused by Carla Black, Carla's electrician, and Estela Ritter:

Carla Black had begged my permission for access to the clinic building. She wanted to have her electrician to install a high-powered breaker for the recycle group's powerful new, expensive trash compactor. The new breaker had to be installed inside the building. 

On January 31, Carla informed me that she had already scheduled her electrician for Saturday, February 4th. I was not pleased about her request with such short notice.

Carla informed me that she would travel to the United States on February 2nd (until February 17th), but she would appoint Estela Ritter to be in charge. Carla said Estela is “an extremely responsible person, 110% reliable.” 

I was uneasy about the situation, but Carla promised me: The clinic will be just the way you left it, except for a strip of bare repello above the breaker box.” 

I reluctantly gave my permission after the following WhatsApp messages to Carla Black:

Your being gone was not in our discussion or agreement, and I am not pleased with this sudden surprise electrician schedule without contacting me first. I hope you understand that to accommodate you puts additional burdens on me. I feel like I've been coerced into it to accommodate you. I am still uncomfortable about this. I don't know Estela OR the electrician.

I am usually not available on weekends, so I arranged for Rodrigo, my employee, to be present during the installation. Rodrigo's instructions were solely to prevent anyone except Estela Ritter and Carla's electrician to enter the building. Rodrigo was not there to supervise the installation or to help Estela or Carla's electrician.

My message to Estela Ritter regarding my possessions inside the building: "The first thing to do is arrange a group with pickups who will clean everything and bring everything to my house."

That didn't happen. 

The installation of their new breaker took several hours. At 4:00 pm, two hours after Estela Ritter and the electrician finished, someone called me to report that smoke was coming from the building. At first, I had no idea of the seriousness. I did not have a car available, so I called Rodrigo, my employee, to come get the keys from my house. I gave Rodrigo a fire extinguisher. 

I was surprised when Rodrigo reported that firemen had already arrived at the building. However, the firefighters could not go inside until Rodrigo arrived to unlock and open the doors. It turned out that a fire extinguisher wouldn't have helped. When I was finally able to go to the building location that day, I was shocked at the damage from fire, smoke, heat, and water. Many of my belongings had been destroyed or rendered unusable by the fire and the bombero's necessary actions to stop the fire. Water, black soot, debris were everywhere.
See the destruction HERE.

WhatsApp messages to Carla Black and Estela Ritter on February 4th:

(To Carla in the United States): What the hell is next??? Someone just called me and said smoke is coming from the clinic. I called Rodrigo to come get the keys and I gave him a fire extinguisher. My entire day has been shot! (It turned out that a “fire extinguisher” wouldn't have helped; The firemen were already at the building, but they could not get inside until Rodrigo arrived to unlock and open the doors. 

Carla's response: (6:27 pm, evening of their fire) -- I can't express my disappointment about the fire today. 

My response: "Disappointed?" That's not the word that comes to my mind! 

February 6, 8:32 pm - (To Estela Ritter): .... remember that you owe Rodrigo $20 for returning from his house in late afternoon.

“Response by Estela Ritter: “I didn’t ask Rodrigo to show up on Saturday afternoon. Why should I pay him? (This is only one example of Estela's "thought process.")

My response to Estela (which she already knew): Rodrigo had to come to open the clinic so that the bomberos could enter. Rodrigo did not have the keys and I did not have a car available. He had to come to my house and get the keys. 

Fortunately for Carla and Estela, a flashover did not occur. A flashover is a phenomenon in which smoke and fire super heat an enclosed room until everything inside reaches a simultaneous, explosive ignition point.

A flashover very well could have happened because the firemen couldn't get inside the building until Rodrigo came from his house to my house, got the keys, and went to unlock the building.

Without Rodrigo's kindness and extra work, the entire facility would have been destroyed, including their new expensive trash compactor.

Carla and Estela never did pay Rodrigo. 

Also, Rodrigo had hoarseness and a bad cough for 10 days because of smoke inhalation when he opened the wooden door inward. When I reported it to Estela, she essentially claimed Rodrigo and I were lying.

I later discovered that Carla's electrician had “piggy-backed” a high-powered new breaker to the building's “sub-code wiring” (It was Carla who later stated the building has sub-code wiring.) I had never thought about the wiring because I had not had a problem during the the 15 years I had rented the building.

After the fire, and after I had given Estela keys to the building, Carla's electrician apparently realized his mistake and (so I've been told) created independent wiring to enable the operation of Carla's high-powered new trash compactor. But that was too little, too late.

Curious questions arise: Is Carla's electrician licensed? Why did he initially piggy-back a powerful new breaker to the building's “sub-code wiring?” Why did he land Estela leave the breakers open when they finished? Did the fire inspector from Bugaba ask any of these questions? If not, why not?

February 6 from Carla Black: “Someone has donated a desk.”

I subsequently asked both Estela Ritter and Carla Black (several times) about the desk. Despite their promises to bring it to me, I have never seen the desk. Apparently someone with the group has the desk.

February 11 from Carla Black: "They (Estela and her crew) say the smell has almost disappeared with the thorough cleaning of the walls and floors, and the removal of porous ceiling materials." (Carla did not reutrn to Panama until February 17th.)

The "porous ceiling materials" were my insulation, not the property of the building or the landlord.

(On April 3, 2023, the smoke odor remains in the building.)

Soon after the fire, Carla claimed: If Dottie chooses to use it, the space will be ready for occupancy no later than Friday afternoon, in time for the regularly scheduled spay clinic on Sunday February 19th. 

It was mid-March before Carla and her group finished everything they intended to do inside the building.

Carla has carefully worded her many attempts to mislead about the cause of the fire. And also about the resulting damage. 

Carla: "The fire did not last long and did not go beyond the wooden table and a few items in the area. There was damage to some supplies due to smoke. Firefighters used minimal water."

See the "some damage" and "minimal water water HERE.

Carla Black was absent from Panama from February 2nd to February 17th. During that time, she had no first-hand knowledge about their fire, the resulting damage to my property, or the subsequent actions (or non-actions) of Estela Ritter, Carla's appointed "person in charge."

Carla continues to spread “misinformation” in attempts to deny her full responsibility for their fire--and her responsibility for most of my significant financial losses caused by their fire. The financial losses are from my own pocket. 

An indirect but real additional cost due to their fire is the many hours of time spent by my salaried employees while we had to devote days upon days dealing with this fiasco. And of course we had to neglect important work at my property all the while. 

Carla's latest attempts to evade sole responsibility (that I know of) continued in her March 14th publication. 

Carla: “All three people present did not turn off the breakers on March 4 (sic): the electrician , the TAR representative, and Dottie’s employee."

(Carla's electrician caused the fire on February 4, not March 4 as Carla wrote.)

The electrician was Carla's. The TAR representative was Estela Ritter. My employee Carla mentions is Rodrigo. 

Neither Rodrigo nor I thought to enter the building after Carla's electrician and Estela Ritter finished the work. Nor should we have needed to--because Carla promised on January 31: “The clinic will be just the way you left it, except for a strip of bare repello above the breaker box.”

“Just the way we left it” meant that the breakers were closed.”

(We had always closed the breakers, without fail, for the past 15 years that I rented the building, just as we had done after the January 15th clinic.)  

Then came Carla's claim (thus trying to deflect sole responsibility for the fire): “A soldering iron was left plugged in and in contact with a wooden table after the last clinic.”

We closed the breakers when we cleaned everything after the January 15 clinic. We had made this a habit for 15 years. When we finished, there was NO ELECTRICITY in the building to cause a fire, no matter what “might” have been “plugged in.” They caused the fire on February 4th, 20 days after our January 15th clinic.

Carla's representative, Estela Ritter, and Carla's electrician leaving the breakers open was the sole cause of the fire, no matter how Carla tries to spin it otherwise.

It is revealing how Carla has made, and continues to make, numerous claims about the fire and the resulting damage when she was not even in Panama from February 2nd until February 17th. 

Portions of Carla's "report" follow. I've inserted my comments after some of Carla's claims.

Carla: Tierras Altas Recicla has taken these actions and made these investments to assure that the clinics can resume soon:

Dedicated approx. 20 hours to cleaning, painting and buying supplies:
FACT: All of their time spent was for the benefit of the landlord's building, not for me.

Cleaned the interior of the building thoroughly.
FACT: Benefit for the landlord.

Painted two and three coats.
FACT: Benefit for the landlord.

Installed a new window and hung new curtains.
FACT: Benefit for the landlord. Actually, the heat of the fire broke window panes in TWO windows. The "new" curtains were because mine were destroyed by the fire. I have left the wrinkled replacement curtains inside the building.

Removed all ruined materials from the property.
FACT: Carla is admitting they threw more than "large gauze pads" in the trash as she previously asserted.

Paint, window and installation, insulation and light, clinic supplies (see spreadsheet).
FACT :"Paint and window and installation" was for the benefit of the landlord. The insulation and (LED) ceiling light were not the property of the landlord or the building.

Paid one month’s rent in order to gain access to the building and make repairs. 
FACT: Paid one month's rent? Another blatant attempt at misdirection. I had already paid the February rent. My instructions to Carla and Estela Ritter were to reimburse ME for the February rent. Instead, as I accidentally discovered, Estela Ritter went behind my back and gave cash to the landlord, not to me. So the landlord received double the rent for February.

A metal table to replace the burned one will be delivered when the clinic moves in.
FACT: Here Carla references my stainless steel table that she previously denied was damaged from the fire. (She had asserted: "Metal does not corrode rapidly due to soot and heat. Any corrosion was present at the time of the fire.")

Now Carla is admitting that the table IS damaged. But interesting that Carla says she will replace the stainless steel table--my property--only IF I then use my property in the manner she dictates.

FACT: We had always completely cleaned everything in the building after a clinic. There was no damage or corrosion on the stainless steel table when we cleaned after the January 15th clinic.

Carla continued: "Tierras Altas Recicla offered four times to install the insulation, upgrade lighting wiring, and install any new lights that would benefit the clinic. All four offers were strongly rejected." 

In that same March 14 "report," Carla repeated the same "misinformation,".but with her repetition, she also claimed that I was "rude."

"Tierras Altas Recicla offered to install the insulation, rewire the lighting and install any additional lighting that Dottie might have wanted in the clinic. She rudely refused Carla three times and rudely refused Marguerite Morris once. We will not participate further in the installation of the insulation."

FACT: My so-called "rude” refusal was because Carla had IGNORED my instructions REPEATEDLY not to install he insulation and LED ceiling light because those two things did NOT belong to the building or to the landlord. Estela Ritter ignored my instructions as well.

Here was my response to Carla via WhatsApp with a copy to Estela, finally in capital letters, hoping Carla, Estela, and Marguerite Morris would finally pay attention and quit ignoring my directive. (This is only one example of the crazy-making “interactions” with Carla and Estela.)


Carla: "We will not participate further in the installation of the insulation." This was another example of how Carla attempted to mislead. She intended for people to think that I unreasonably refused their "oh-so-kind offer." More "misdirection."

In addition, Carla did NOT offer to "install any additional lighting I might want." And I did NOT refuse permission for Carla to "rewire the lighting" or "upgrade lighting wiring."

In the spreadsheet included with Carla's same March 14th missive, Carla listed all the items she claimed she (her recycle group) had replaced or paid for.

Fact: Carla has replaced a few of my less expensive items ruined or damaged from their fire, but not even close to everything she lists on her "spreadsheet." And Carla refused to replace ANY of my more expensive items.

Filled the largest of the old cracks in the floor at Dottie’s request.
FACT: There had been a few very minor cracks in the concrete floor before the fire.
But the heat caused additional very large and widespread cracks.

As of March 14, invested approx. $800 to ensure that the clinics can continue:
FACT: Very little of the $800 was for "the benefit of the clinics

Fact: The minor payment of $177.50 to me by Carla (actually by Fundacion Grupo Reciclaje de Volcan) included $105 they owed to Dr. Tello for his sutures destroyed by the fire. The remaining $72.50 covered only a small portion of my ruined supplies, furniture, and equipment. The reimbursement was in the form of a check, which required even more of my time for a trip to the bank.

In addition to what was stored in the clinic building, I have probably a thousand dollars worth of medications and supplies in my house. Fortunately these were not stored in the clinic building, but of course all have expiration dates.

Carla continued: " We applied "two or three coats of paint" to cover the walls. We ran an ozone machine for 4 sessions of 2.5 hours each. (Again, Carla wasn't even in Panama while this work was allegedly taking place.)

IF Carla's paint claims and the ozone machine claims are true, it didn't work. After two months, there is still a harmful smoke odor in the building. 

Carla: "The odor will take some time to disappear completely. It's a shame the room was closed for so long before clean-up could get started." 

The room (building) "was closed for so long?" Their fire was late on Saturday. I spent Monday and Tuesday doing my best to compile a list of the damaged items in the building. I gave Estella Ritter the keys on the morning of Wednesday, February 7. Only three days later.

Then that Wednesday morning, Estela and her crew began to throw damaged items into the trash and to pile all of my other items outside the building. Everything that was otherwise undamaged was covered with black soot. Some of the items, which are still marginally usable, have permanent black smudges from the soot.

No one can comprehend the stress, work, time, and effort it took me to transport everything that wasn't destroyed by the fire to my property--and then to clean everything I had moved.  By the time we could start cleaning the piles even on the porch of my casita, rats had built nests in the mess. The porch of my casita, my casita itself, and bedroom, and my shop are all filled with clinic furniture and supplies transported from the building.

(Days after the fact, Carla volunteered to "help clean.")

There is much more evidence regarding Carla's "misinformation," but I will go forward from here and do what I can to help the animals. Whatever happens, for the last 17 years it has been my honor to serve the animals and the community.