It is not clear which mechanisms are responsible for changing soil biological activity following a fire. To address this knowledge gap, we measured such parameters of soil biological activity as flux rates of CH4, and CO2 and identified key environmental parameters that can influence soil biological activity. Soil samples were collected in burned and adjacent unburned control forests, along a 3000 km-long north-south transect in European Russia. A raw biological activity of tested soil samples varied significantly between forest types, but not between burned and control forest stands. Linear mixed effect modeling demonstrated a striking contrast in the importance of different drivers in sustaining a soil biological activity in the burned and control forests. The optimal model of basal soil respiration consisted of: 'Soil moisture' (26%), 'Fire treatment × Soil moisture × Labile soil N:P ratio' (21%), and 'Fire treatment × Labile soil C × Labile soil N:P ratio' (13%). The model for CH4 in turn was defined by interactions of bulk and labile soil C with soil moisture and other factors. Our study clearly demonstrated that forest fires affect soil biological activity rather indirectly through modifying soil properties. The results enable forecasting post-fire effects on soil functioning in a changing climate under varied fire regimes.