Among evacuees, Esalen staffers are grateful for Red Cross


“The level of coordination and care was outstanding,” Esalen Institute’s Terry Gilbey said of the Red Cross response to the Dolan Fire. (Photo by Jens Wazel)

Founded in the 1960s in picturesque Big Sur, the Esalen Institute has a well-earned reputation for exploring human consciousness and developing human potential. The center attracts visitors from around the world whose interests in subjects such as personal growth, meditation, massage, yoga, and spirituality are explored less seriously by traditional universities and religions.

Terry Gilbey, the General Manager/CEO, has been with the institute since 2016. Just a year into his tenure, he helped the center stay afloat after landslides and a bridge failure made the facility inaccessible for many months. So the institute — and Terry — has had some practice with disasters.

Those skills were dusted off in the early evening hours of Wednesday, August 19, when Terry and his staff noticed the look of fire over the southeast hillside. This was the early phase of the Dolan wildfire, which has burned almost 130,000 acres and is not yet contained more than a month later.

That first night, Terry and his 22 staff members temporarily evacuated to a location a mile and a half north of the institute. Thanks to their previous planning, this was uneventful.

The following day, however, it became clear the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Air quality was getting very bad, the fire was escalating, and it became clear that a more permanent evacuation from Esalen was the prudent thing to do.

Grounds, People and Property of Esalen Institute

Almost two dozen staff members evacuated from Esalen’s Big Sur venue in the early hours of the destructive Dolan Fire.

Moving 23 residents and a couple of cats off the property was executed successfully after Terry secured a block of rooms at the Carmel Mission Inn and another hotel nearby.

Terry’s stay at the Carmel Mission Inn gave him a front-row seat to the American Red Cross’ own response to the Dolan Fire — as well as to several other wildfires that started after a lightning storm struck Northern California around the same time. That’s because the hotel had been identified by the Red Cross as a non-congregate disaster shelter site during the current COVID pandemic.

Red Cross support to the hotel’s residents came in the form of meals and check-up calls from Disaster Health Services and Disaster Mental Health Services. The Red Cross worked with the institute’s and other evacuees to make sure that they had the food they needed and that their physical, mental, and spiritual health was as positive as possible. The Red Cross was even able to expedite delivery of some needed medications.

“The level of coordination and care was outstanding,” Terry said. “And I was incredibly impressed with the quality and consistency of outreach during the several weeks we were in the hotel. The proactive nature and adaptability of the Red Cross to the COVID environment were incredible.”

“Having people give up their time unselfishly is an amazing statement of kindness, generosity, and a great testimony to the humanity that exists,” Terry added.

As the head of an institute that lists “service” as one of its key values, Terry ended his evacuation with a deep respect for all that Red Cross volunteers do, adding that he was particularly impressed by one volunteer who had taken two weeks of his vacation to answer the call.

“Whether on the front line or behind the scenes, this level of dedication is very unusual in this day and age,” he said.


About the author: Larry Dietz is a Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army Reserve, as well as a dedicated Red Cross public affairs volunteer in the Silicon Valley Chapter.

You too can become a Red Cross volunteer: Please consider getting trained as a Shelter Worker so that you can help us help others during wildfires and other large disasters. For more information and/or to start your application process; just go today to

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