Bill Nikolopoulos awoke in darkness, made his way to a window in his apartment and laid eyes on an enormous wall of flames.

It was about 2:30 Tuesday morning, and a fire was raging inside an abandoned warehouse on Front Street near Girard Avenue, about a block from his apartment.

As thick arms of smoke curled around the nearby Market-Frankford El, Nikolopoulos turned and looked at his sleeping 9-year-old grandson.

"I got ready to put my pants on and get him outside," he said. "Luckily, the wind wasn't blowing this way."

Firefighters got the four-alarm blaze under control by 4:15 a.m., Fire Department officials said, and managed to keep the flames from spreading to any nearby properties on Girard Avenue.

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said a firefighter injured his back when he fell from a fire engine. The 18-year veteran, identified as Daniel Crawford, was treated at Hahnemann University Hospital. "He's going to have a long recovery," Ayers said.

The cause of the blaze hasn't been determined.

Ayers said firefighters saved the El, which loomed over the warehouse, from damage. SEPTA said service was interrupted on the El between the Huntingdon and Spring Garden stops until about 2:40 p.m. Shuttle buses helped scores of transit riders whose early morning commutes were upended by the fire.

According to property records, the warehouse is owned by Liberty Homes Philadelphia Inc., which appears to be a subsidiary of developer Bart Blatstein's company, Tower Investments. The company declined to comment but was believed to be in the process of selling the warehouse. The property had no outstanding tax bills or any record of violations.

The website Hidden City Philadelphia said the building was once home to a distillery and L.H. Parke Coffee and Tea Importer.

The warehouse's smoldering remains were slowly demolished by workers Tuesday afternoon.

Nikolopolous, whose lives above a tailor and dry cleaner that he runs on Girard near Howard Street, said the warehouse had burned at least once before.

"It happened before," he said. "When I saw the fire [Tuesday], I said, 'Here we go again.'"

Contact David Gambacorta at 215-854-5994 or