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Imposing axial restraint against column thermal expansion during fire causes additional axial forces to be generated and develops excessive buckling deformations. Hence, an early failure can take place which may lead to partial failure of the building during fire. This paper discusses an extensive experimental study which is being undertaken to investigate the axial restraint effect on column performance under high temperatures. The paper details the experimental program, and the factors included in the parametric study. A loading rig was specially designed to permit the application of axial load together with the imposition of axial restraint. As a part of the main experimental program a pilot study was performed to identify factors that might affect the experiment environment and to modify the envisaged test methodology of the main program. The pilot study involved testing ten steel columns of one section, slenderness h=152, under temperatures up to 1000 OC, where three levels of axial restraint and loads were involved.