The immediate effect of low and high severity wildfires on the main soil properties, as well as their short- and medium-term evolution under field conditions, was examined. The study was performed with three pine forest soils (two Leptosols and one Humic Cambisol, developed over granite and basic schist, respectively), located in the Atlantic humid temperate zone (Galicia, NW Spain). Samples were collected from the A-horizon (0–5 cm depth) of the burnt and the corresponding unburnt soils, immediately and 3, 6 and 12 months after the wildfires. Most properties analysed exhibit immediate fire-induced changes and different evolution depending on fire severity and soil type. In general, immediately after the fire pH and soil properties related to nutrients availability increased and cation exchange capacity decreased, whereas properties related to soil organic matter content (C, N, Fe and Al oxides) had a variable effect depending mainly on the soil studied; all these modifications were accentuated by fire severity. These effects were attenuated in the short term in the soil affected by a low severity wildfire, but they lasted for at least 1 year in the soils affected by high severity wildfires, particularly in the Leptosols. The results showed the importance of the fire as a disturbance agent in the dynamic of nutrients and soil organic matter that is directly related with soil quality in the Galician forest ecosystems. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.