Tundra ecosystems have experienced an increased frequency of fire in recent decades, and this trend is predicted to continue throughout the 21st Century. Post-fire recovery is underpinned by complex interactions among microbial functional groups that drive nutrient cycling post-fire. Here we use a mechanistic model to demonstrate an acceleration of the nitrogen cycle post-fire driven by changes in niche space and microbial competitive dynamics. We show that over the first 5-years post-fire, fast-growing bacterial heterotrophs colonize regions of the soil previously occupied by slower-growing saprotrophic fungi. The bacterial heterotrophs mineralize organic matter, releasing organic and inorganic nutrients into the soil. This pathway outweighs new sources of nitrogen and facilitates the recovery of plant productivity. We broadly show here that while consideration of distinct microbial metabolisms related to carbon and nutrient cycling remains rare in terrestrial ecosystem models, they are important when considering the rate of ecosystem recovery post-disturbance and the feedback to soil nutrient cycles on centennial timescales.